Scarlet Fever

What is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet Fever is usually a secondary condition; it is rarely a primary condition. This is a bacterial illness that develops alongside strep throat in certain people. This condition is also known as scarlatina.

The condition earned its name because of the bright red rash that cover the majority of the body. This rash is almost always accompanied by a sore throat and high fever.

This condition is most common in young children through mid-teens. National statistics show that the highest incidence of Scarlet fever occurs in children who are between age 5 years and age 15 years.

The name “Scarlet Fever” does scare people. This is because it has been around for centuries and was once thought of as a serious, and potentially fatal condition. However, with wide variety of antibiotics the world has today, it is much less life threatening as long as it is treated. If it is not treated, the condition can result in serious damage to the internal organs. Untreated Scarlet fever usually affects the heart and kidneys first, but it can affect any internal organ it can get to.

What are the Symptoms of Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever was named after the appearance of the skin due to fever. However, there are many other symptoms that go along with the fever that parents should be prepared for. These symptoms include:

  • A red rash that looks similar to a sunburn. As the condition progresses, the skin affected by the rash will peel.
  • Red lines in the folds of the skin. These lines usually become darker red than the rash.
  • Flushed skin with a whitish colored ring around the mouth
  • Red tongue. Bums will develop on the tongue and it could be covered with a white coating. This is called strawberry tongue because of the color.
  • Fever of at least 101 degrees F. Sometimes the fever does get higher.
  • Enlarged lymph nodes on the side of the neck.
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache

The symptoms of Scarlet fever usually last for a week after the initial fever develops.

Scarlet Fever Causes

Group A Streptococcus bacteria, a type of bacteria that likes to inhabit the nose and throat and cause strep throat, are also responsible for causing scarlet fever. Sometimes the two conditions occur at the same time. Scarlet fever is typically spread by person-to-person contact when someone who is infected with the bacteria either coughs or sneezes. It is contagious and can be caught either when droplets from a cough or sneeze land on someone, or when someone touches an item the infected droplets have landed on. Some of the more recent outbreaks recorded have been food-borne, however. Also, some cases of scarlet fever have occurred after contact with infected burns or wounds.

Children between the ages of 5 to 15, family members, and people who work with children in that age range are the most likely to be affected by scarlet fever, as they are often in close contact with each other for school or outside activities. They are also more likely to catch it during the late fall, winter and spring months.

How is Scarlet Fever Treated?

If your child develops scarlet fever, their pediatrician will prescribe the appropriate antibiotic. Your child will have to talk all of the medication prescribed to ensure the infection is completely gone. Failing to follow your pediatrician’s orders completely could result in your child developing undesirable complications.

Scarlet Fever Prevention

Because scarlet fever is primarily spread through person-to-person contact, one of the best means of preventing it is by practicing good personal hygiene habits and taking additional precautions when a case has been reported.

Additional precautions that can be taken include:

  • Washing your hands both before and after going to the bathroom with soap and warm water
  • Using antibacterial wipes to wipe down surfaces that someone who has scarlet fever has been in contact with
  • Thoroughly washing any and all dishes with soap and hot water
  • Limiting contact with anyone who has scarlet fever

Precautions someone who has scarlet fever can take to prevent spreading it include:

  • Following the treatment course given to them by their doctor, even after visible symptoms have disappeared
  • Practicing (or continuing to practice) good personal hygiene
  • Not preparing food or drinks for others until after they have finished treatment
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Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 02, 2017