About scarlet fever
Scarlet fever is a complication that can happen when a child has a throat or skin infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes (group A strep). This bacteria can release toxins that spread through the child’s body and cause scarlet fever symptoms.
Group A strep bacteria can spread from person to person through sneezing, coughing or touching the sores of someone with a skin infection.
Scarlet fever symptoms
Children with scarlet fever often have:
A bumpy, red rash can appear at the time of infection or 1-2 weeks later. The rash starts blotchy and changes over time to look more like sunburn. There’s usually a clear area around the mouth. Parts of the rash around the underarms, elbows and groin might be a brighter red or more obvious than the rest of the rash. The rash feels like sandpaper to touch.
After the infection has gone away, children’s skin might peel, usually on the tips of their fingers and toes.
Children’s tongues might also turn bright red. This is sometimes called a ‘strawberry tongue’.
Complications of scarlet fever
It’s very rare for children to have complications of scarlet fever. But if scarlet fever is left untreated or treatment doesn’t work, it can affect the heart and kidneys.
Medical help: when to get it for children with scarlet fever
You should take your child to the GP if your child shows symptoms of scarlet fever.
You know your child best. If your child seems unwell, trust your instincts and seek medical attention.
Tests for scarlet fever
Your doctor might do a throat swab to confirm that your child has scarlet fever.
Treatment for scarlet fever
Scarlet fever looks dramatic, but it’s usually easily treated with antibiotics.
With treatment, your child will usually start to get better within 48 hours.
Your GP might want to check your child’s kidneys and heart after the infection has gone to make sure there have been no complications.
If your child has scarlet fever, they’re infectious for only 1-2 days if they get the right treatment. But they might be infectious for 10-21 days if they don’t get treatment.
Prevention of scarlet fever
There’s no immunisation for scarlet fever.
To prevent group A strep bacteria from spreading, you, your child and other family members should wash hands regularly with warm, soapy water. You should all try to keep your hands away from eyes, nose and mouth too.