Scarlet Fever

close-up of a human hand inserting a tongue depressor into a man's mouth

Scarlet Fever is a disease that is commonly identified by a red rash all over the body. It can progress from the less serious illness strep throat. It is a highly infectious disease that is usually triggered in children under the age of eight. In fact, before antibiotics were used to treat this disease it was a common cause of death among children. Although less common, it can also affect early teens. The illness is caused by bacteria and is often spread by inhalation.

To date, no vaccine exists to prevent the occurrence of this illness. However, antibiotics are often prescribed to treat the symptoms. Scarlet fever can be extremely dangerous for children because it has the potential to progress into more serious diseases such as heart valve disease. Because strep throat can act as a gateway to scarlet fever, it is important to seek medical attention immediately if your child begins to show symptoms associated with strep throat, such as a fever combined with an extremely sore throat.


As mentioned, scarlet fever is usually caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat. The only difference is that in the case of scarlet fever, the bacteria will release toxins which will make the scarlet fever symptoms such as rashes more evident. The disease is most commonly spread by inhalation or fluid exchange. For example, if an infected individual coughs or sneezes, those who are surrounding the individual are at risk of catching it because the air will be filled with the bacteria and an individual standing close by may inhale it.

In some cases, doctors believe that if you touch an infected individual’s rash you may contract the disease. However, this is a much less common way to catch the disease. It is also possible to catch it by taking a bath or shower with an infected individual. This makes certain locations such as gym locker rooms one place where the illness can be transmitted.


The signs and symptoms of scarlet fever will be different for everyone. However, as mentioned one of the most common symptoms will be a bright rash all over the body. Individuals suffering from this illness will often have a very sore throat that is sometimes accompanied by white or yellow discoloration.

One of the earliest signs of scarlet fever is an extremely high temperature. Oftentimes the rash will appear within a day or two of the fever. In most cases, the rash will not spread to the face but will cover the rest of the body. If you suspect that your child is suffering from scarlet fever, you should also check the tongue to see if there is a white streak on it as this can also be a symptom.

Some of the less obvious symptoms include fever, nausea, loss of appetite and headache. The reason why these are referred to as less obvious symptoms is because they are also present with other illnesses such as a common cold or flu.


If a mild form of scarlet fever has been contracted, the illness will usually disappear on its own with adequate rest and hydration. However, in more serious cases antibiotics may need to be prescribed in order to relieve some of the symptoms.   One of the most commonly prescribed antibiotics for scarlet fever is penicillin. In most cases when antibiotics are prescribed, they will need to be continued for at least ten days. Although it is highly likely that the patient will be cured in about a week, they must continue to take the medication to ensure that the bacterium has been flushed out.  However, if the patient does not feel any benefits from the antibiotics within 2 days, they should seek medical attention. Other common types of antibiotics prescribed for scarlet fever include Biaxin and Amoxicillin.

If the patient experiences a very bad itching sensation as a result of the rash, calamine lotion should also be used to soothe the symptom.