Scarlet fever is a bacterial illness that is most commonly found in children between the ages of 5 and 15. This illness gets its name because of the bright red rash that develops all over the body.
In addition to the rash, scarlet fever typically comes with a fever and sore throat, which makes sense, as this illness is triggered by the same bacteria that cause strep throat.
Although this disease used to be a very dangerous problem for small children, if you take swift action to care for your child—including them taking a full course of antibiotics—scarlet fever is not as threatening as it once was.
But, as the Mayo Clinic warns, “if left untreated, scarlet fever can result in more-serious conditions that affect the heart, kidneys and other parts of the body.”
Signs and Symptoms of Scarlet Fever
As mentioned above, this ailment gets its name from its trademark red rash, which looks and feels like a sandpapery sunburn. “It typically begins on the face or neck and spreads to the trunk, arms and legs,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “If pressure is applied to the reddened skin, it will turn pale.”
Those suffering from scarlet fever may have a flushed face, and you will also likely notice, “a pale ring around the mouth.”
Early on in the outbreak, a child may have what’s described as a “strawberry tongue,“ which is red and bumpy and potentially “covered with a white coating.”
Also be on the lookout for red lines that are darker than the rest of the rash in the folds of the skin around elbows, armpits, knees, and neck.
“The rash and the redness in the face and tongue usually last about a week,” explains the Mayo Clinic. “After these signs and symptoms have subsided, the skin affected by the rash often peels.”
Speaking of peeling, keep your eyes peeled for a fever above 101 degrees, a very sore throat (potentially with white or yellowish patches), difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, and even nausea and vomiting.
If you see these symptoms, especially a fever above 102 degrees and swollen glands in the neck, go see a doctor.
Seeing a doctor is vital.
A doctor will go through a series of simple tests—including taking a throat swab—to evaluate whether your child has scarlet fever. Once the disease is officially diagnosed, your pediatrician will prescribe an antibiotic.
“Make sure your child completes the full course of medication,” cautions the Mayo Clinic. “Failure to follow the treatment guidelines may not completely eliminate the infection and will increase your child’s risk of developing complications.”
If you follow the doctor’s orders, there’s a good chance your kiddo can head back to school a day after starting antibiotics, assuming the fever has subsided.
Ease the pain.
While you’re following the course of action explained by your doctor, you can still help your little one pass the time with scarlet fever a little more comfortably.
Use ibuprofen or acetaminophen to help keep the fever down and reduce pain in the throat. Make sure that your child is staying hydrated—even if it hurts to swallow. Gargling saltwater and sucking on lozenges can also be helpful in soothing the throat.
Of course, a bowl of warm chicken soup can go a long way, too.
Finally, if you haven’t already, this yet another reason to quit smoking—especially indoors and around your kids.
There are a number of simple preventive measures you can take to reduce the risk of catching or spreading scarlet fever.
Remind your family that regular hand washing; not sharing food, drinks, or utensils; and practicing covering your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing can go a long way when it comes to keeping this and other illnesses at bay.
“If your child has scarlet fever,” writes the Mayo Clinic, “wash his or her drinking glasses, utensils and, if possible, toys in hot soapy water or in a dishwasher.”
Staying vigilant, practicing good hygiene, and having your doctor’s phone number on file are all helpful steps to keeping your kids healthy.