Scarlet fever

Definition

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

Causes

Scarlet fever was once a very serious childhood disease, but now is easily treatable. It is caused by the streptococcal bacteria, which produce a toxin that leads to the hallmark red rash of the illness.

The main risk factor is infection with the bacteria that causes 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 becoming infected and having 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. It is described as "sandpapery" in feel. The texture of the rash is more important than the appearance in confirming the diagnosis. The rash can last for more than a week. As the rash fades, peeling (desquamation) may occur around the fingertips, toes, and groin area.

Other symptoms include:

Exams and Tests

Treatment

Antibiotics are used to kill the bacteria that causes 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 - 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:

Prevention

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


Review Date: 5/15/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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