Skip to Content

Scarlet Fever


What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is an infection caused by bacteria. This bacteria makes a toxin (poison) that can cause a red rash on the skin. Scarlet fever is most common in children between 5 and 15 years of age.

What causes scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria called group A strep. This is the bacteria that also causes strep throat. In those with scarlet fever, the bacteria is found in the mouth and nose. Scarlet fever can be spread from an infected person to another by touching, coughing, sneezing, or sharing food or drinks. Scarlet fever can also come from a skin infection caused by strep bacteria.

What are the signs and symptoms of scarlet fever?

The most common sign of scarlet fever is a rash. The rash first appears as tiny red bumps on the neck, chest, and abdomen. Then, it spreads all over the body. It looks like a sunburn and feels rough. The rash may last for 6 days. After the rash is gone, the skin on the tips of the fingers and toes usually begins to peel. Your child may also have one or more of the following:

  • Bright red lines under the arms and in the groin
  • Fever with chills
  • Headache and body aches
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Sore throat with white or yellow patches
  • Swollen, red tongue

How is scarlet fever diagnosed?

A throat culture is done to check for scarlet fever. Healthcare providers will swab the back of your child's throat with a cotton swab. You may get the results in minutes or days.

How is scarlet fever treated?

Antibiotic medicine is used if the throat culture shows that strep bacteria is the cause of your child's infection. Give the antibiotics to your child exactly as suggested by your healthcare provider. It is very important for your child to finish all of the antibiotics even if he feels better.

What are the risks of scarlet fever?

Your child may become dehydrated if he has a high fever and does not drink enough liquids. If left untreated, scarlet fever may cause a throat abscess, swelling of the sinuses, or a middle ear infection. Your child may also develop pneumonia, heart or kidney disease, or meningitis (swelling of the coverings of the brain and spinal cord).

How can the spread of germs be prevented?

  • Wash your hands and your child's hands often. Wash your hands several times each day. Wash after you use the bathroom, change a child's diaper, and before you prepare or eat food. Wash your child's hands after he or she uses the bathroom or sneezes. Wash your child's hands before he or she eats. Use soap and water every time. Rub your soapy hands together, lacing your fingers. Wash the front and back of your hands, and in between your fingers. Use the fingers of one hand to scrub under the fingernails of the other hand. Wash for at least 20 seconds. Rinse with warm, running water for several seconds. Then dry your hands with a clean towel or paper towel. Use germ-killing gel if soap and water are not available. Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth without washing your hands first.
  • Keep your child away from others who are sick. Separate your child from siblings who are sick. Ask friends and family not to visit if they are sick.
  • Clean toys and surfaces. Clean toys that are shared with other children. Use a disinfectant solution to clean common surfaces.

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

  • Give your child warm liquids, such as soup, or cold foods, like popsicles or milkshakes. This may help ease the pain of the sore throat.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for your child to breathe and help decrease his or her cough.
  • Your child may need more rest than he realizes while he heals. Quiet play will keep your child safely busy so he does not become restless and risk injuring himself. Have your child read or draw quietly. Follow instructions for how much rest your child should get while he heals.

When should I seek immediate care for my child?

  • It becomes difficult for your child to eat, drink, or breathe.
  • Your child cries without tears.
  • Your child has a dry mouth or cracked lips.
  • Your child is more sleepy or irritable than usual.
  • Your child has a sunken soft spot on the top of his head.
  • Your child urinates less than usual or not at all.
  • Your child says he feels dizzy.

When should I call my child's doctor?

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child is tugging at his ears or has ear pain.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's healthcare providers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Ā© Copyright IBM Corporation 2021 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotesĀ® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Learn more about Scarlet Fever

Associated drugs

Symptom checker

Symptoms and treatments

Mayo Clinic Reference

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.