Scarlet Fever

Always see a doctor if you're concerned about any aspects of your health or wellbeing while pregnant.
Always see a doctor if you're concerned about any aspects of your health or wellbeing while pregnant. 

What is it?

Scarlet fever is a thankfully now-rare condition which is caused by a strain of the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria, also known as group A streptococci. Prior to the introduction of antibiotics, scarlet fever had a high mortality rate among children, however it is now a very treatable condition and most children will recover fully within two weeks. If left untreated, scarlet fever can result in serious complications including rheumatic fever and kidney and heart problems.

If you suspect that your child may have scarlet fever you should see a medical professional immediately.

What are the symptoms?

The group A streptococci also causes other illnesses and children with scarlet fever will usually present with a “strep throat” infection or tonsillitis. Two or more members of one family may develop a strep throat, yet only one may go on to develop scarlet fever. Some common symptoms include:

  • A high temperature
  • An inflamed throat and swollen neck glands
  • Possibly lack of appetite and vomiting
  • Within two days a fine pink-red rash spreads over the neck, chest, abdomen and in skin folds. The rash is caused by toxin that is released into the bloodstream by the streptococcal bacteria and it may feel like sandpaper when touched. The rash tends to blanch if you press on it.
  • A redder-than-usual tongue (known as ‘strawberry tongue’).
  • Paleness around the mouth.

Is it contagious?

Scarlet fever is not considered to be highly contagious however streptococci can be spread to other people by:

  • Breathing in infected droplets that have been coughed or sneezed out by others.
  • Direct physical contact with an infected person.
  • Sharing food or drink with an infected person.

The incubation period is short and your child is likely to become ill within 1 – 3 days of becoming infected.

What are the treatments?

As mentioned, scarlet fever can have potentially serious long-term health implications so it is very important to seek medical advice if your child displays the symptoms of the disease.

The most important aspect of treatment is a course of antibiotics (usually penicillin) to kill the bacterium. Your child will usually continue to be contagious until after the first 24 hours of the antibiotic course.

In addition to the antibiotics, other treatment is about making your child feel comfortable and may include:

  • Pain relief, such as paracetamol
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Plenty of rest

Routine hygiene such as encouraging your child to cover their mouth when coughing or sneezing and to wash their hands afterwards can help to prevent illness spreading to other members of your family.

Other resources

Department of Health Factsheet

Women’s and Children’s Health Network