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Scarlet Fever - Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Written by
Dr. Lochana
and medically reviewed by Dr. Amit Jauhari

Published on May 28, 2020   -  4 min read



It is a bacterial illness affecting people who have strep throat. Read this article to know about the causes, symptoms, and treatment.

Scarlet Fever - Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment

What Is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever is also known by the name scarlatina. It is an infection that might develop in people who already have an existing strep throat infection. It gives a characteristic bright red rash on the body. It is usually accompanied by a high fever or sore throat, sometimes both. The same bacteria that cause strep throat are also known to cause scarlet fever. It mainly affects children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. It is a serious childhood illness.

What Are the Symptoms of Scarlet Fever?

The signs and symptoms might vary depending on the severity of the disease.

  • Red Rashes: The rashes look like sunburns and feel like sandpaper rubbing. It usually begins on the face or neck. Then it spreads to the trunk, arms, and legs. When the pressure is applied to the reddened part of the skin, it will turn pale.

  • Red Lines: The parts of the skin around the groin, knees, armpits, elbows, and neck usually become a deeper red than the surrounding rash.

  • Flushed Face: The face might appear flushed. There will be a pale ring seen around the mouth. Flushed skin because of the tiny blood vessels lying beneath the skin. These blood vessels either dilate or widen. When these blood vessels expand, they are a rapid filling of more blood. This can make the skin appear red or pink. This effect is seen more in regions of the body where the blood vessels are seen closest to the skin. This might include cheeks and chest. The skin that is flushes may feel hot to touch. This may be accompanied by a mild burning sensation. It does not cause harm most of the time. But it is necessary to check with your doctor.

  • Strawberry Tongue: The tongue generally looks bright red and bumpy. The tongue becomes enlarged, swollen, and red. This might resemble the strawberry fruit. It is often covered with a white coating in the early part of the disease. If a patient develops a strawberry tongue, it is better to consult a doctor immediately to know the underlying cause immediately. The doctor will ask you to perform a few tests for confirmation.

The rash and the redness in the face and tongue are known to last about a week. When these signs and symptoms have subsided, the skin affected by the rash often peels. Other signs and symptoms associated with scarlet fever are:

  • Very high fever of 101 F (38.3 C) or higher. It is often associated with chills.

  • Sore throat, which may be red. Sometimes it is seen with white or yellowish patches.

  • Difficulty in swallowing.

  • Enlarged glands in the neck (lymph nodes) that are tender to the touch.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Headache.

What Are the Causes?

Scarlet fever is caused by a similar type of bacteria that is causing strep throat. In scarlet fever, a toxin is released by the bacteria. This toxin produces red rashes on the tongue.

How Does It Spread?

  • The infection spreads from one person to another person through the droplets expelled by an infected person during coughing or sneezing.

  • Scarlet fever has more chances of spreading through direct contact with the fomites.

What Are Fomites?

When an inanimate object or item is infected by the sputum or any other discharges expelled by the infected person, the infectious germs may still remain in the objects. The objects may include desks, handkerchiefs, soaps, glasses, plates, utensils, clothes, cups, spoons, doorknob, pencils, pens, bath faucet handles, toilet flush, handrails, buttons of the lift machine, T.V remote controls, touch screens, phones, keyboards, and coffeepot handles. The germs residing in these objects cannot be seen with our naked eye. The spreading of infection by fomites are known to be proved in many theories of infection. Hence it should be frequently cleaned to avoid spreading to other family members, friends, and classmates.

What Is the Incubation Period?

The incubation period is the time taken for the symptoms to show or express. The incubation period for scarlet fever is usually two to four days.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Children aged five to fifteen years of age are more likely to get affected by scarlet fever than are other people. This may be due to the improper development of the immune system. The germs causing scarlet fever can easily spread through direct contact with the droplets from the affected person.

What Are the Complications?

The bacteria causing the infection may further spread through blood, kidneys, and lungs. If scarlet fever is left untreated, it may cause other complications such as:

  • Rheumatic fever. (which can involve the heart, joints, and nervous system)

  • Tonsillitis.

  • Skin infection.

  • Kidney diseases.

  • Abscess formation.

  • Infections of the lung.

  • Severe middle ear infections.

How Can It Be Diagnosed?

Your doctor will check the condition of the throat, tonsils, and tongue clinically. They may advise you for a swab test. If there are no bacterial infections, then some other factors might be responsible for the illness.

What Is the Treatment?

If your child is suspected of having scarlet fever, your doctor will prescribe certain antibiotics. Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen (Paracetamol) can be used to control the fever. This might also reduce throat pain.

Home Remedies:

Provide adequate supplements of fluids. Give your child plenty of water to drink. This keeps the throat moist. This also prevents dehydration. Perform saltwater gargle. Humidification of the air is required. Use a cool-mist humidifier to eliminate the dry air. Avoid ice-creams and cold items. Avoid any products which irritate the throat.

What Are the Preventive Measures?

There are no vaccines found to prevent scarlet fever. The best prevention strategies for scarlet fever are some of the standard precaution protocol to be followed against infections:

  • Wash your hands. It is essential to wash your hands for a minimum of 15 seconds. Teach your child how to wash his or her hands thoroughly with warm and soapy water. After washing your hands, it is necessary to wipe with clean hands.

  • Do not share utensils or food with the affected person as it is highly contagious. As a cleanliness measure, you or your child should not share drinking glasses or other eating utensils with friends, family members, or classmates. This protocol has to be applied while sharing food too.

  • It is mandatory that you cover your mouth and nose. Advice your child to cover his or her mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing to prevent the potential spread of germs from one person to another.

  • If your child has scarlet fever, wash his or her drinking glasses, giving additional care. If possible, wash the toys used by the child in hot soapy water or using a dishwasher.

For more information, consult a doctor online!


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Last reviewed at:
28 May 2020  -  4 min read




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