Scarlet Fever

Disease database

Scarlet fever is a contagious bacterial infection that primarily affects children between the ages of 5 and 15. It is caused by the group A Streptococcus bacteria, the same bacteria responsible for strep throat. Scarlet fever is characterized by a distinctive rash, high fever, sore throat, and swollen glands. In some cases, it can also cause vomiting, headache, and body aches. If left untreated, scarlet fever can lead to serious complications, so it is important to recognize the symptoms and seek medical attention promptly.

Fever: A Telltale Sign

One of the key symptoms of scarlet fever is a high fever. The body’s temperature rises significantly, often reaching 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher. This fever is usually accompanied by other symptoms such as a sore throat and swollen glands.

Sore Throat: A Common Complaint

A sore throat is a hallmark symptom of scarlet fever. It can be quite painful and may make swallowing difficult. The throat may appear red and inflamed, and there may be white or yellow patches on the tonsils. It is important to note that not all sore throats are caused by scarlet fever, but if accompanied by other symptoms, it is worth getting checked by a healthcare professional.

Swollen Glands: A Sign of Infection

Scarlet fever often causes the glands in the neck to become swollen and tender. These glands, known as lymph nodes, play a crucial role in the body’s immune response. When they become enlarged, it is a sign that the body is fighting off an infection.

Rash: The Scarlet Signature

Perhaps the most distinctive symptom of scarlet fever is the rash that accompanies it. The rash typically begins on the chest and abdomen before spreading to other parts of the body, such as the arms, legs, and face. It appears as small, red bumps that may feel rough to the touch. Over time, the rash may develop a sandpaper-like texture and turn a brighter shade of red. It usually lasts for about a week before fading away.

Red Tongue with White Coating: Strawberry Tongue

Another characteristic feature of scarlet fever is a red tongue with a white coating. This condition, often referred to as “strawberry tongue,” gives the tongue a distinct appearance. The redness is caused by the enlargement of the tiny papillae on the surface of the tongue, while the white coating is a result of dead cells and bacteria.

Vomiting: A Distressing Symptom

In some cases, scarlet fever can cause vomiting. This symptom can be distressing, especially for young children. It is important to keep the affected individual hydrated and seek medical attention if vomiting persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms.

Headache: A Common Complaint

Headaches are a common complaint among individuals with scarlet fever. The combination of high fever, sore throat, and other symptoms can contribute to the development of headaches. Over-the-counter pain relievers may help alleviate the discomfort, but it is important to consult a healthcare professional for appropriate treatment.

Body Aches: Feeling Sore

Scarlet fever can cause general body aches and discomfort. These aches are often described as a sore or achy feeling throughout the body. Resting, staying hydrated, and taking over-the-counter pain relievers can help alleviate these symptoms.

Treatment and Prevention

If diagnosed with scarlet fever, treatment typically involves a course of antibiotics to eliminate the bacterial infection. It is important to complete the full course of antibiotics as prescribed by a healthcare professional to ensure the infection is fully eradicated. In addition to antibiotics, supportive care measures can help alleviate symptoms and promote recovery:

  • Rest: Encourage the affected individual to get plenty of rest to aid in the recovery process.
  • Fluids: Ensure the individual stays hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids, such as water, herbal tea, and clear broths.
  • Soothing remedies: Gargling with warm saltwater can help relieve a sore throat, while cool compresses or oatmeal baths can soothe itchy skin.
  • Isolation: To prevent the spread of scarlet fever, it is important to keep the affected individual isolated until they have been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours and are no longer contagious.

Preventing scarlet fever involves practicing good hygiene and taking precautions to avoid exposure to the bacteria. Some preventive measures include:

  • Regular handwashing: Encourage frequent handwashing with soap and water, especially before meals and after using the restroom.
  • Avoiding close contact: Teach children to avoid sharing utensils, cups, and other personal items with others.
  • Covering mouth and nose: Encourage individuals to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or their elbow when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of bacteria.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting: Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and toys.

In conclusion, scarlet fever is a contagious bacterial infection that primarily affects children. It is characterized by symptoms such as fever, sore throat, swollen glands, rash, red tongue with white coating, vomiting, headache, and body aches. Prompt medical attention and appropriate treatment with antibiotics are essential to prevent complications. Supportive care measures can help alleviate symptoms and promote recovery. Practicing good hygiene and taking preventive measures can help reduce the risk of contracting and spreading scarlet fever.

Haroon Rashid, MD
Rate author
Urgent Care Center of Arlington, VA
Add a comment