Scarlet Fever: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that develops in people who have strep throat. It is associated with rashes on the body, high fever, and sore throat.

It is also known as ‘scarlatina’. It occurs most commonly in children between the age of 5 and 15. It is caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat.

Scarlet fever is also known as ‘scarlatina’. It was once considered a threatening health issue but with the advancement of the medical field, treatments are now available.

Antibiotics are administered to treat it and reduce the symptoms. If not treated on time, it can cause damage to organs.

Symptoms of Scarlet Fever

Signs and symptoms of scarlet fever include-

  • Red rashes on face, neck, trunk, arms and legs which give an impression of sunburn. On applying pressure, the skin turns red. They begin to appear 2-4 days after the person starts to feel ill.
  • Skin appears red in the folds of skin surrounding the groin, underarms, elbows and knees. These red creases are called Pastia lines.
  • Skin on fingers, toes and in the groin may peel off.
  • A pale ring appears around the mouth and it is flushed.
  • Tongue also has a white coating in the early stages and becomes red and bumpy- strawberry tongue.
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fever of about 101° F along with chills
  • abdominal pain
  • swollen tonsils
  • headache

Causes of Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever is an illness that occurs in people with strep throat.

The same bacteria that causes strep throat, causes scarlet fever.

Group A Streptococci or Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria live in mouth and nasal passages and are responsible for causing rashes and redness by the production of toxins.

Is Scarlet Fever Contagious?

Scarlet fever is definitely contagious.

If you happen to come in contact with droplets from an ill person through coughing, sneezing, saliva or even nasal secretion, you will catch the infection on touching your mouth, nose or eyes.,

Incubation period between the exposure and illness is about 2-4 days.

Touching a rash caused by the toxins released from the bacteria does not communicate the infection because bacterial toxin causes it and not the bacteria.

Sharing utensils with a person who is afflicted with the infection can result in spread of the illness.

Group A strep also contaminates food, so, sharing of food, especially milk, with a patient of scarlet fever can cause it as well.

Using towels, clothes or even bed linen with somebody who is infected is another way of spreading disease.

Cellulitis, a skin infection caused by group A strep, can spread the bacteria to other people through contact.

So, in nutshell, it is spread by-

– respiratory droplets in the air

– saliva or nasal secretion

– skin to skin contact

– sharing products

Risk Factors For Scarlet Fever

It is most common in children between 5 and 15 years of age. Being in close contact with others who are infected increases the risk of catching the infection.

Complications Associated With Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever is associated with symptoms that disappear with the time after you begin the treatment but certain complications are caused by this infection.

Complications result due to the body’s immune response to the infection instead of bacteria.

If left untreated it can lead to damage in other organs of the body. Problems caused by it include-

  • glomerulonephritis (kidney disease)
  • arthritis
  • pneumonia
  • ear, sinus and skin infection
  • swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • abscess in the throat or tonsils
  • rheumatic fever (can affect heart and nervous system)
  • blood infection

Ear, sinus and skin infections as well as abscess can be treated using antibiotics.

Meningitis, osteomyelitis and toxic shock syndrome are some of the rare complications.

Diagnosing Scarlet Fever

A doctor generally diagnoses the scarlet fever by checking for the signs and symptoms related to it.

They will look for rashes on the skin and examine them.

Redness on the tongue and skin around certain areas is also examined. Doctor checks the health of the throat, tonsils and lymph nodes.

After diagnosing the symptoms, if the doctor suspects that the illness is scarlet fever a throat swab is collected to examine the cells by creating a culture.

Examination is done to check which bacteria caused the infection.

Rapid throat swab test is also done sometimes to get the report faster.

In some cases, the doctor asks for the blood test as well.

Treatment For Scarlet Fever

Certain medicines are recommended for the treatment of scarlet fever. It is primarily treated with antibiotics to kill the bacteria.

Consuming antibiotics also helps the immune system to defend the body against bacteria causing infection. They also help in reducing the symptoms or complications related to ear, nose and throat.

Antibiotics usually involve a 10 day course of penicillin or some other antibiotic if the patient is allergic to it.

24 hours after taking the antibiotics, the patient does not remain contagious but precautions should still be taken to avoid the spread.

To ease the pain and reduce the fever, over-the-counter medications are suggested such as-

  • Acetaminophen
  • Ibuprofen (depending upon age)

Having foods like warm soup and gargling with salt water mix can help reduce the effects of sore throat.

Even consuming ice cream can help cure the pain and swelling. Soft foods and liquid diets can also help.

Aspirin should not be given to the patient when illness is associated with fever to prevent the risk of Reye’s syndrome.

It is a serious condition which causes confusion, swelling of the brain and problems in the liver.

Hydration is also very important for the patient, especially in cases of loss of appetite.

Calamine lotion can be used to treat itching.

There is currently no vaccine for scarlet fever but with the progress of the medical field, it might be created.

Preventing Scarlet Fever

Ways to prevent the transmission of this infection include-

  • maintaining proper hygiene and cleanliness
  • isolation from other people to avoid contact and spread of the disease
  • covering of mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • avoid sharing utensils, clothes, towels or food with the infected person
  • clean your hands and face with soap and water to wash off the infectants


Scarlet fever is caused in children between 5 to 15 years of age with strep throat. It is caused by Streptococcus bacteria.

There are various signs and symptoms related to scarlet fever. Rashes on the body along with redness and sore throat. Fever is also caused.

It is diagnosed by a doctor using symptoms. Throat swab is taken to be examined under a microscope to determine the bacteria that caused infection.

Treatment is done by giving antibiotics. It takes about 4-5 days to completely recover. Patient does not remain contagious 24 hours after intake of antibiotics.

Symptoms can be cured using medicines. Over-the-counter medication is used for pain and fever.

Diet can be used to calm the pain and swelling. Drinking water from time to time is also very important.

Complications are caused if it is left untreated. They include some serious health issues such as rheumatic fever or throat abscess.

Prevention should be the priority by maintaining cleanliness and hygiene. You should wash hands and face frequently and avoid contact with the infected person.

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