Scarlet fever is a childhood disease caused by the group A streptococcal bacteria which causes the more common illness, strep throat. Scarlet fever is known for its telltale rash which starts on the chest and neck and can spread to other areas of the body.
Scarlet fever begins with a sore throat and fever. The tongue and back of the throat may have a white coating. The tongue may also appear bumpy and is referred to as strawberry tongue. Other symptoms include body aches, swollen glands and nausea. The red rash, caused by a toxin released by the bacteria, begins as flat splotches but becomes bumpy and rough and lasts up to one week. Skin may peel as the rash fades. The illness most commonly affects children age 5-15.
Antibiotics are used to treat scarlet fever. While the illness is mild in nature, it does need to be treated to avoid complications.
Dr. Mark Dowell of Rocky Mountain Infectious Disease said, “Most cases of strep throat, with or without the rash of scarlet fever, do not lead to rheumatic fever or kidney injury. These cases are rare in the U.S. Treatment of the infection will diminish the risk of these complications.”
Scarlet fever is contagious and spread through contact with mouth and nasal fluids from someone infected. Regularly washing hands with soap and water will help prevent illnesses.