Scarlet Fever

[[skahr-lit] [fee-ver]]

Young girl

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus or “group A strep.” The classic symptom of the disease is a certain type of red rash that feels rough, like sandpaper. Although anyone can get scarlet fever, it usually affects children between 5 and 15 years old. It is usually a mild illness, but people with scarlet fever need antibiotics to prevent rare but serious health problems. Antibiotics also help someone with scarlet fever feel better sooner and protect others from getting sick.

Quiz

Key Facts

  • Although anyone can get scarlet fever, it usually affects children between 5 and 15 years old.
  • Doctors can test for scarlet fever with a quick strep test.
  • Doctors treat scarlet fever with antibiotics.
  • Common symptoms of scarlet fever include sore throat, fever (101° F or above), and a red rash with a sandpaper feel.
  • Protect yourself and others by washing your hands often and not sharing eating utensils.

Media

Mother checking daughter's forehead

What to Expect

Illness usually begins with a fever and sore throat. There also may be chills, vomiting, or abdominal pain. The tongue may have a whitish coating, appear swollen, or look red and bumpy. Small, flat red blotches usually appear first on the neck, underarm, or groin before spreading over the body. Later, the rash starts to feel like sandpaper.

Bottle of medication

Long-term Health Problems

Long-term health problems are rare. They can include rheumatic fever; kidney disease; ear, skin, throat, or lung infections; and arthritis. Treatment with antibiotics can prevent most of these health problems.

Children washing their hands

Preventing Infection

The best way to keep from getting or spreading the bacteria that cause scarlet fever is to wash your hands often. Also avoid sharing eating utensils, plates, and glasses. Children with scarlet fever should stay home from school or daycare until they no longer have a fever and have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

Scarlet Fever Podcast

Prevention Tips

  • Wash your hands often. It is especially important for anyone with a sore throat to wash his or her hands often. Group A strep bacteria spread through contact with droplets from an infected person’s cough or sneeze. If you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching something that has these droplets on it, you may become ill.
  • Wash glasses, utensils, and plates after someone who is sick uses them. You can get sick after drinking from the same glass or eating from the same plate as a sick person.
  • Take antibiotics if infected. Treatment with antibiotics can prevent most long-term health problems from scarlet fever.
  • Stay home if infected. Children with scarlet fever should stay home from school or daycare until they no longer have a fever and have taken antibiotics for at least 24 hours.

More at CDC.gov

Page last reviewed: January 11, 2018