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Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is a disease caused by an infection with bacteria in the group A Streptococcus (the same bacteria that cause strep throat).

Causes

Scarlet fever was once a very serious childhood disease, but now it is easy to treat. The streptococcal bacteria that cause it produce a toxin that leads to the hallmark red rash of the illness.

The main risk factor for getting scarlet fever is infection with the bacteria that cause strep throat. A history of strep throat or scarlet fever in the community, neighborhood, or school may increase the risk of infection.

Symptoms

The time between infection and symptoms is short, generally 1 - 2 days. The illness typically begins with a fever and sore throat.

The rash usually first appears on the neck and chest, then spreads over the body. People say it feels like sandpaper. The texture of the rash is more important than the appearance to confirm the diagnosis. The rash can last for more than a week. As the rash fades, the skin around the fingertips, toes, and groin area may peel.

Other symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

  • Physical examination
  • Throat culture that shows bacteria from group A Streptococcus
  • Rapid antigen detection (throat swab)

Treatment

Antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that cause the throat infection. This is crucial to prevent rheumatic fever, a serious complication of strep throat and scarlet fever.

Outlook (Prognosis)

With proper antibiotic treatment, the symptoms of scarlet fever should get better quickly. However, the rash can last for up to 2 to 3 weeks before it fully goes away.

Possible Complications

Complications are rare with the right treatment, but can include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if:

  • You develop symptoms of scarlet fever
  • Your symptoms do not go away 24 hours after beginning antibiotic treatment
  • You develop new symptoms

Prevention

Bacteria are spread by direct contact with infected people, or by droplets exhaled by an infected person. Avoid contact with infected people.

Alternative Names

Scarlatina

References

Alvro R, Borkan JM, Ferri FF. Scarlet fever. In: Alvero R, Borkan JM, Ferri FF, et al., eds.Ferri's Clinical Advisor

Bisno AL, Stevens DL.Streptococcus pyogenesPrinciples and Practice of Infectious Diseases

Gerber MA. Group AStreptococcusNelson Textbook of Pediatrics

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Update Date 5/5/2014

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