Scarlet Fever In Children

Scarlet fever is on the rise again with cases surging above normal seasonal levels. In this article, we will share everything you need to know about scarlet fever in children, including symptoms and treatments.

What Is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever is a highly contagious bacterial infection that develops from the bacteria called group A Streptococcus (group A strep).

It is most common in children and can be easily spread through direct contact and respiratory droplets. Once exposed to group A strep bacteria, it can take two to five days to develop symptoms of strep A or scarlet fever.

What Are The Symptoms?

Commonly, the first signs of scarlet fever are flu-like, this includes:

  • High temperature (sometimes with chills)
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen glands in the neck (large lumps that can be seen and/or felt in the side of the nice – may be sore to touch and will cause pain when swallowing)
  • General lethargy
  • Body aches

Within 12-48 hours, a child with scarlet fever will develop a rash that looks like small, raised bumps that make the skin rough to touch (like sandpaper). The rash tends to start on the chest and stomach before spreading across the body.

A scarlet fever rash does not usually appear on the face, however, the cheeks may be much pinker than usual. The rash may be more difficult to see on brown or black skin, but will still feel rough and bumpy.

Another symptom of scarlet fever is a white coating on the tongue that eventually peels to leave the tongue red, swollen and covered in tiny bumps.

Other symptoms include stomach ache, headache, nausea and vomiting.

How Is Scarlet Fever Treated?

If you suspect that your child has scarlet fever, it is important to take them to a doctor as soon as possible. A doctor will diagnose scarlet fever after examining your child.

In some cases, they will place a cotton swab into the throat to test the bacteria. There are now a range of tests that provide rapid results for identifying group A strep.

Once scarlet fever has been diagnosed, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics. It is crucial that your child completes the course of antibiotics, even if they start to feel better before the antibiotics are finished. Aside from taking the antibiotics, symptoms can also be relieved by:

  • Taking painkillers (such as paracetamol) to help with discomfort and reduce fever
  • Drinking plenty of cold fluids
  • Taking antihistamine tablets to ease any itching that comes with the rash
  • Applying calamine lotion (or similar) to ease the discomfort of the rash
  • Eating soft foods if it is painful to swallow.

Scarlet fever tends to last around 1 week. Symptoms should start to ease within days of starting the antibiotics.

Can Adults Get Scarlet Fever?

Yes. Although it is less common, adults can still get scarlet fever. The symptoms and treatment of scarlet fever in adults are very similar to that of children.

How To Prevent The Spread Of Scarlet Fever

If you have been around someone with scarlet fever, ensure you wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. If you believe yourself or your child has scarlet fever symptoms, it is important to avoid seeing other people.

This means staying at home and not attending nursery, school or work. Dispose of any used tissues immediately and wash your hands regularly, especially after coughing/sneezing and before eating. Use an alcohol-based hand gel if water and soap are not available.