Scarlet Fever

Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment of Scarlet Fever

January 30, 2019

What is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever, also known as scarlatina, is an infection that can develop in people who also have strep throat, a bacterial infection that causes inflammation and pain in the throat. The same bacteria that cause strep throat also cause scarlet fever. It’s characterized by a bright red bumpy rash that spreads on the body. This red rash is what gives scarlet fever its name. Though even adults can develop scarlet fever, this is especially common with children between 5 and 15 years old. Sneezing and coughing can spread the infection from one person to another.

Though outbreaks still occur, scarlet fever is less common now than in the past. It can be successfully treated with antibiotics. The primary symptoms are a rash, a sore throat, and a fever.


Scarlet fever is caused by a toxin released by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes (S. pyrogenes) or group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus. These are bacteria that can live in your mouth and nasal passages. Humans are the main source of these bacteria.


The main indication of scarlet fever is the rash. It looks like a sunburn and feels like sandpaper. It typically begins on the face and neck. Then, the rash moves down to the chest and back and eventually spreads to the rest of the body. Underarms, elbows, and groin areas usually become a deeper red than the surrounding rash. Moreover, a person infected usually has a fever above 38.3°C or 101°F. In addition, the tonsils and back of the throat might look red and swollen. They may also be covered with a whitish coating and dotted with whitish or yellowish specks of pus. Also, the tongue may look red and bumpy and may be covered with a white coating or yellow coating early in the infection.

In uncommon cases, scarlet fever may develop from impetigo, a streptococcal skin infection. Impetigo is extremely contagious and is especially common with infants and children. It usually appears as red sores around the nose and mouth and as well as on hands and feet. The sores can be spread to other areas of the body by fingers, clothing, and towels. After the sores rupture and ooze for a few days, they form honey-colored crusts. In such cases, it is likely that the child may not get a sore throat.

Other common symptoms of scarlet fever also include chills, headaches, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, and pale skin around the lips.

Complications That Scarlet Fever May Cause

Scarlet fever can be successfully treated with antibiotics in a matter of days or weeks. However, scarlet fever can cause serious complications. Here are some:

  • Rheumatic fever: It is one of the complications associated with strep throat. It is caused by a bacterium called group A Streptococcus. Rheumatic fever causes the body to attack its own tissues. This reaction causes widespread inflammation throughout the body, which is the basis for all symptoms of rheumatic fever.
  • Peritonsillar abscess: A bacterial infection that usually begins as a complication of untreated strep throat or tonsillitis. It generally involves a pus-filled pocket that forms near one of your tonsils.
  • Pneumonia: Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Pneumonia causes inflammation in the air sacs in your lungs, which are called alveoli. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe. If a person has scarlet fever, bacterial pneumonia may also occur due to Streptococcus bacteria.

Treatment Of Scarlet Fever

To determine if a child has scarlet fever, doctors have to check for the presence of the strep bacteria. This is done through a rapid strep test or throat culture, which is a painless swab of the throat. After confirming a strep infection, doctors prescribe antibiotics for a child to take. Antibiotics kill bacteria and help the body’s immune system fight off the bacteria causing the infection. In most cases, the rash and other symptoms of scarlet fever will be gone in about 10 days to 2 weeks with antibiotic treatment.

Other treatments/medications may include:

  • Eating ice pops, ice cream, or warm soup to help ease the pain of a sore throat.
  • Gargling with salt water and using a cool air humidifier to decrease the severity and pain of a sore throat.
  • Sucking on throat lozenges to relieve sore throats.
  • Taking (Tylenol) or ibuprofen to ease throat pain.
  • Humidifying the air to stop throat irritation from dry air.
  • Switching to a soft food diet if eating is painful.
  • Drinking plenty of water to moisten the throat and avoid dehydration.
  • Drinking plenty of water if you do not have much of an appetite.
  • Using calamine lotion to relieve the itch of the rash.
  • Keeping the room cool
  • Taking paracetamol to relieve aches and pains and bring down a high temperature.
  • Staying away from irritants in the air, such as pollution

Preventing Scarlet Fever

There is no vaccine to prevent scarlet fever, but good hygiene can definitely prevent children from getting scarlet fever. Here are some prevention tips to follow:

  • Wash your hands before preparing food, before and after meals, after using the restroom and anytime you cough or sneeze.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Don’t share utensils and drinking glasses with others, especially in group settings.
  • As much as possible, avoid people with other forms of Streptococcal infection, since they may also transfer the bacteria to you and put you at risk of scarlet fever.
  • Strengthen your immune system by adopting a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and exercising.