About scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is a complication that can happen when a child has an infection caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogens (group A strep). It’s usually a throat infection, but it can sometimes be a skin infection. Scarlet fever symptoms develop when the bacteria release toxins that spread through the child’s body.

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 isn’t common.

Scarlet fever symptoms

Children with scarlet fever almost always have:

A rash can appear at the time of infection or a week or more afterwards. 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 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’.

If your child has scarlet fever, he’s infectious for only 1-2 days if he gets the right treatment. But he might be infectious for 10-21 days if he doesn’t get treatment.

Does your child need to see a doctor about scarlet fever?

Yes. You should take your child to the GP if your child shows symptoms of scarlet fever.

Tests for scarlet fever

Your doctor might do a throat swab to confirm your child has scarlet fever.

Treatment for scarlet fever

Scarlet fever looks dramatic, but it’s usually easily treated with antibiotics from the penicillin group. If your child is allergic to penicillin, your doctor will prescribe a different kind of antibiotic.

With treatment, your child will usually 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.

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.