Along with strep, scarlet fever is an illness caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. This type of bacteria can produce a toxin that leads to a scarlet-colored fever rash, giving the disease its name. Not all people are susceptible to the toxin, however, and not every kind of strep bacteria will cause scarlet fever symptoms.
In terms of scarlet fever, children between the ages of 5 and 15 usually experience symptoms of this fever rash. The disease is spread through mouth and nasal fluids, usually by coughing and sneezing. The scarlet fever rash can also be transmitted by drinking from the same cup or using the same utensils as someone who has scarlet fever symptoms.
Scarlet Fever Symptoms
The distinctive fever rash is the first of several scarlet fever symptoms. In the beginning, the scarlet fever rash looks like a sunburn, and feels like sandpaper with tiny red dots. With scarlet fever, children usually have this fever rash on the face and neck, while the area around the mouth usually remains unaffected. Soon, the scarlet fever rash spreads to the chest and back. The rest of the body is eventually covered.
If your child has scarlet fever rash, you’ll most likely see red streaks in the body’s creases, such as the folds of skin around the groin, elbows and underarms. The fever rash usually lasts between two and seven days. Skin on the tips of fingers and toes may begin to peel when the scarlet fever rash disappears.
In addition to the fever rash, other scarlet fever symptoms include:
- Fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, with chills
- Sore, red throat with white or yellowish patches
- Strawberry appearance of tongue with white coating
- Swollen, tender glands in the neck
- Vomiting or nausea.
Scarlet Fever, Children and Complications
While complications from scarlet fever symptoms aren’t usually serious, there are some disorders that may develop after a bout of the scarlet fever rash. One such disorder is rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that affects the heart, joints, skin and nervous system. Rheumatic fever has numerous long term effects.
Inflammation of the kidneys can occur due to byproducts produced by the strep infection. It’s even possible that strep infection can lead to an autoimmune response in children that exaggerates symptoms of disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, Tourette’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Other possible complications of the fever rash include:
- Bacterial infections of the blood
- Ear infection
- Infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis)
- Skin infections.
Treatment of Scarlet Fever
Prompt treatment with antibiotics decreases the risks of scarlet fever rash complications. There are also steps that can be taken at home to lessen scarlet fever symptoms. A diet of soft foods and liquids such as hot tea, soups and ice cream can be offered to soothe a sore throat. Make sure that your child drinks plenty of liquids. A cool-mist humidifier will add moisture to the air, also helping the sore throat. See a doctor if you have questions about a proper course of treatment.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (2008). Scarlet fever. Retrieved January 30, 2010, from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/DBMD/diseaseinfo/scarletfever_g.htm.
Klein, J. (2009). Infections: Scarlet fever. Retrieved January 30, 2010, from the Kids Health Web site: http://kidshealth.org/parent/infections/bacterial_viral/scarlet_fever.html#.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Scarlet fever. Retrieved January 30, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/scarlet-fever/DS00917.