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Scarlet Fever

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Apr 2, 2024.

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:

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 or she feels better. 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).

Treatment options

The following list of medications are related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

How can the spread of germs be prevented?

How can I manage my child's symptoms?

When should I seek immediate care?

When should I call my child's doctor?

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.

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