What is Scarlatina?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Many people better know scarlatina as scarlet fever. This is an illness that is usually the result of infection with certain strains of Strep or Streptococcus bacteria. Most often affecting children up to their early teen years, the condition has very recognizable symptoms. It used to be the case that this illness could result in terrible complications and cause death, but now, in most cases when it is recognized early, it can be easily treated with antibiotics.

A throat culture is generally performed to determine if scarlatina is present.
A throat culture is generally performed to determine if scarlatina is present.

There are number of prominent symptoms of scarlet fever that make this illness fairly easy to distinguish from strep throat. First, children develop a rash that is bright red and has a rough feel to it. It is often described as similar in appearance to a sunburn, and the skin may eventually peel, but the rash may not feel flat, and it is likely to spread over much of the body. The cheeks can make it look like the child is blushing or has just exerted himself, but the area around the lips and mouth can look faded or white. Another hallmark of this illness is something called Pastia’s lines or strawberry red lines that are present in skin folds, such as under the arms.

Scarlatina is a result of infection in the throat.
Scarlatina is a result of infection in the throat.

The rash and Pastia’s lines typically develop after some other scarlatina symptoms first appear. Often, the earliest disease symptoms are an extremely sore throat and high fever that exceeds 101°F (38.33°C). Many children also have swollen glands, and there may be other symptoms too, like stomach pain or nausea, throbbing head, dizziness, and a bright red tongue.

Scarlatina typically causes a persistently high fever.
Scarlatina typically causes a persistently high fever.

Early indications often suggest strep throat, and the appearance of a rash usually means scarlet fever. Since the fever typically stays high, parents are usually urged to bring their children to a healthcare professional to confirm the diagnosis and get treatment. Diagnosis may be confirmed by appearance only if all prominent rash signs are present, but many medical professionals also take a throat culture or perform a rapid strep test to make certain that the bacteria that causes scarlatina is in the throat. Once the disease is diagnosed, the standard treatment is antibiotics.

Although scarlatina is most common among children, adults of all ages can contract the illness.
Although scarlatina is most common among children, adults of all ages can contract the illness.

Some other things can be done at home to give comfort for the person recovering from this illness. Fever-lowering medications, except for aspirin for children, may be of use and may also have a pain relieving effect on the throat. Drinking lots of liquids can help and hot liquids or cold or frozen ones might partially relieve throat discomfort. Children, or the rare adult that gets this illness, should also get plenty of rest until fever is gone.

While, in present day, it is easy to treat scarlet fever, it shouldn’t be considered a benign illness. It requires antibiotic treatment because it can turn into other, more serious conditions like rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can begin to affect organs in the body, even the heart, and may cause permanent damage if ignored. People who suspect scarlatina or strep throat should get prompt medical care.

An extremely sore throat is usually one of the first signs of scarlatina.
An extremely sore throat is usually one of the first signs of scarlatina.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

anon355295

I had scarlatina when I was nine. I am 64 now, and I was wondering if there can be any lingering effects.

anon322877

I was diagnosed and treated with scarlatina when I was two and I'm now 44. I was wondering if there are any effects years later?

anon321756

My daughter was diagnosed with this disease, but was quickly treated with amoxicillin and thank God, was healed pretty fast.

anon177155

is there a difference between scarlatina and scarlet fever?

anon157786

i am confused as my daughter has just been diagnosed with scarlatina but she doesn't have a high temp and the rash is on her face. the doctor said it wasn't contagious but websites are saying differently. what is it?

stolaf23

The symptoms of scarlatina, aside from the rashes, are so similar to strep throat and other infections that it can be hard to diagnose it. Fortunately, antibiotics can treat it even if it has gotten a bit advanced; one of the few things, as a bacterial infection, that antibiotics actually help.

sapphire12

I was unaware that scarlet fever, or scarlatina as this article calls it, was even still a common disease. I suppose because it can be treated with antibiotics like penicillin, most people I have known who may have had it were treated promptly enough to prevent it spreading to others or morphing into a worse disease.

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