Scarlet fever, also called scarlatina, is a bacterial infection that mainly affects children. If left untreated, it can sometimes lead to severe complications. A distinctive sign of scarlet fever is a pink-red rash.
Scarlet fever is caused by a toxin released by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyogenes) or group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus, the same that causes strep throat. Some patients with strep infections or impetigo often develop scarlet fever.
Signs and symptoms of scarlet fever usually appear about 1 to 4 days after initial infection. The first symptoms include a red, sore throat that sometimes have white or yellowish patches, a fever of 101 Fahrenheit, or 38.3 Celsius or higher, and frequently with chills, and of course, rashes which appear 12 to 48 hours after the first symptoms.
The rashes spread to the ears, neck, elbows, inner thighs, groin, chest, and other parts of the body. The rashes do not appear on the face, but the patient’s cheeks often become flushed, and the area around the mouth becomes pale.
Other symptoms include difficulty swallowing, headache, itching, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain, broken blood vessels in the folds of the body swollen neck glands, and lymph nodes that are tender to the touch.
How is it spread?
Scarlet fever is passed on through fluids from the mouth and nose. When a person coughs or sneezes, the bacteria become airborne in droplets. Touching the skin of someone with streptococcal skin infection can also spread via sharing of personal items such as towels, clothes, and linens.
Doctors normally diagnose scarlet fever by looking at signs and symptoms on the skin. They perform a throat swab or a blood test to help determine which bacteria caused the infection.
Mild cases of scarlet fever often resolve within a week without treatment. However, treatment will help the person recover fast and reduce the risk of complications. Normally, the treatment involves a 10-day course of oral antibiotics, usually penicillin. Individuals who are allergic to penicillin may take erythromycin or another antibiotic instead.
There is no vaccine to prevent scarlet fever. Prevention methods against infections are very standard and applicable to any other infection or sickness:
- Wash your hands frequently with warm soapy water
- Do not share dining utensils or food
- Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze