Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is an illness that sometimes occurs when your child gets strep throat. Kids from five to fifteen are most a risk for contracting scarlet fever and will have a fever, rash, and a ‘strawberry tongue’. It was once considered a life-threatening illness, but antibiotics have made it far less intimidating. Still, scarlet fever is very serious and needs to be treated by a doctor.

What causes it?

Scarlet fever is caused by a strain of streptococcus bacteria. Streptococcus bacteria also cause streptococcal sore throat, or strep throat. In scarlet fever, the bacteria produce toxins that can enter the bloodstream and infect other parts of the body, resulting in a more serious illness. The streptococcus bacteria are contagious and are generally spread through sneezing and coughing. Your child can get scarlet fever as soon as one to three days after being exposed to it.

Is scarlet fever serious?

Scarlet fever is rare, but serious. Left untreated, scarlet fever can result in infections of the heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, and nervous system. Complications of scarlet fever include rheumatic fever; bacteremia , a bacterial infection of the blood; an infection of the lining of the heart; and meningitis, inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, are less likely to occur if your child is treated soon after getting sick.

Can I prevent scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever can be prevented with thorough hand washing and by avoiding people who have the illness. Teach your kids to wash their hands often and don’t share drinking cups and eating utensils with other kids. If your child has scarlet fever, keep them home until she is better to prevent the illness from spreading.

How do I know if my child has scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is almost always accompanied by a sore throat and high fever. It usually comes on suddenly and may include symptoms such as:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headache
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • A rash may appear on the second day of the illness. The rash looks a bit like sunburn and appears on the neck and torso, and in the folds of the arms, legs, and groin. The rash will probably last between two and five days and your child’s skin might peel after the rash goes away.
  • Kids with scarlet fever might also have a symptom called ‘strawberry tongue’, where the tongue looks redder than normal and the bumps on the tongue are bigger, making the tongue look a bit like a strawberry.

How do I treat scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever has to be treated by a doctor. Your child’s doctor will probably give her antibiotics for the infection. You can give them paracetamol for fever, sore throat and body aches. Your child will probably be irritable and miserable, so make sure that they gets lots of bed rest and liquids while she is sick. You can try using calamine lotion for the rash if your child is uncomfortable. Keep them away from other kids until she has been treated with antibiotics for at least one day to prevent spreading scarlet fever to others.

Should I call the doctor?

Always call the doctor if you think your child has scarlet fever. The key to a quick and complete recovery from scarlet fever is to begin treatment early. Also, if your child is being treated with antibiotics for scarlet fever, but does not feel better in two to three days, call your doctor.

What you need to know:

  • It is most common in kids from five to fifteen.
  • You can treat it with antibiotics, rest and plenty of fluids.

Written by Rebecca Stigall for Kidspot, New Zealand’s parenting resource for family health. Sources include Ministry of Health NZ, Better Health Channel, Health and Health Insite.

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