What is Scarlet Fever?

Garry Crystal

Scarlet fever is an incredibly infectious condition that most often affects children. It used to be quite common and extremely dangerous, but it is now treatable. The disease is caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria, and it occurs after a throat or skin infection, like strep throat. Strep infections are commonly treated with antibiotics.

Coughing can be a method of transmitting the scarlet fever virus.
Coughing can be a method of transmitting the scarlet fever virus.

Also known by the name scarletina, scarlet fever most commonly occurs in children between the ages of four and eight years old, although people of any age can catch it. The infection is airborne, which means that the bacteria can be passed through the air in sneezes and coughs. Although the bacteria is very contagious, the disease itself is often relatively mild. Symptoms appear within two to four days of a person becoming infected.

Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics.
Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics.

Scarlet fever symptoms often begin with a sore throat, but the most distinctive symptom is a red rash that appears on the body. The rash will be rough to the touch, similar to sandpaper. It has been known to spread over the entire body, but commonly affects the face, neck, chest, and groin area.

Treatments for scarlet fever usually focus on reducing the fever and relieving symptoms.
Treatments for scarlet fever usually focus on reducing the fever and relieving symptoms.

When the rash appears on the face, it often makes the cheek area pink and flushed, while the area around the mouth will stay quite pale. People can do a quick check for the disease by pressing a glass to the red area, which will turn white when the pressure is applied. Any suspected cases of scarlet fever should be definitively diagnosed by a medical professional.

Scarlet fever is highly contagious, and if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications.
Scarlet fever is highly contagious, and if left untreated, it can lead to serious complications.

Several other symptoms may also be seen in people with the infection. They may develop headaches and a general feeling of illness, as well as loss of appetite and pain in the abdomen. The glands in the neck may become swollen, and nausea or vomiting may also occur. Scarlet fever can also cause a white coating on the tongue that may disappear after a few days and leave the tongue swollen and red. Broken blood vessels may also occur over the body, usually in areas like the armpit.

The rash usually lasts for around a week and then fades away without treatment. A medical professional should be consulted, however, and he or she will often prescribe antibiotics in order to eliminate any complications and speed the recovery process. Antibiotics — often an oral penicillin medication — are often prescribed for 10 days, and any fever will normally disappear within 24 hours of starting the medication.

Swollen glands are common to scarlet fever, which primarily affects children between the ages of four and eight.
Swollen glands are common to scarlet fever, which primarily affects children between the ages of four and eight.

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Discussion Comments

anon149253

Because azythromycin is a crap antibiotic! My daughter had double ear infections and strep and the doctor put her on azythromycin for five days.

I ended up taking her to a ear, nose and throat specialist when she was still in pain for both after the 5th day of the antibiotic and he put her on amoxicillen for 10 more days!

lightning88

It can be hard to tell the difference between scarlet fever and strep.

The biggest thing to watch out for is the rash and the classic "scarlet fever tongue". Strep doesn't cause a rash, and although there may be coating on the tongue, it won't be the strawberry tongue associated with scarlet fever.

pharmchick78

@galen84basc -- Scarlet fever is very contagious, and spreads by droplet and contact transmission.

That means that unless your other children are in very close contact with the scarlet fever disease, it is unlikely that they will be infected.

The other child would have to actually get bodily fluid from an infected child in their mouth or on their mucus membranes to get the infection.

However, knowing kids, that isn't really a challenge for them.

The best thing to do is to keep the infected child isolated from the others until it gets better.

galen84basc

If scarlet fever is so contagious, how do I keep it from spreading to my other children?

anon8967

what if the strep throat does not resolve after treatment with azythromycin for 5 days?

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