Scarlet fever is an illness caused by a streptococcal infection. It typically affects children between the ages of 5 and 15, but can occur in people of any age. The condition is characterized by a red, sandpapery rash that typically appears on the chest and abdomen before spreading to other parts of the body. Other symptoms include fever, sore throat, and swollen glands in the neck. While scarlet fever is typically not serious, if left untreated it can lead to more serious complications such as rheumatic fever and kidney inflammation.
The symptoms of scarlet fever typically appear 1-4 days after exposure to the streptococcal bacteria. They include:
- Red, sandpapery rash that typically begins on the chest and abdomen before spreading to other parts of the body. The rash may feel rough to the touch and can be accompanied by itching.
- Fever, typically 101-104F
- Sore throat
- Swollen glands in the neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- White coating on the tongue
- Red, swollen tonsils
Scarlet fever is caused by a streptococcal infection, specifically Group A streptococcus bacteria. The infection is typically spread through direct contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person, although it can also be contracted by touching an object that has the bacteria on it and then touching one’s mouth, nose or eyes.
Scarlet fever is typically treated with antibiotics, which can help to reduce the duration of symptoms and prevent complications. The most commonly prescribed antibiotics are penicillin and erythromycin. It’s important to take the full course of antibiotics, even if symptoms improve before the medication is finished.
It’s also important to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and take over-the-counter pain relievers such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce fever and sore throat pain.
The best way to prevent scarlet fever is to practice good hygiene, including:
- Washing your hands frequently with soap and water, especially after touching objects or surfaces that may be contaminated.
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Scarlet fever. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/groupastrep/diseases-public/scarlet-fever.html
- Mayo Clinic Staff. (2020). Scarlet fever. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/scarlet-fever/symptoms-causes/syc-20373658
- NHS. (2020). Scarlet fever. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/scarlet-fever/
- World Health Organization. (2020). Scarlet fever. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/scarlet-fever