What is Scarlet Fever : Symptoms, Causes, and Complications

scarlet fever
Scarlet Fever: Symptoms and Treatment

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is a disease that mostly develops in people who have strep throat. The infection is also called scarlatina, and it shows itself in the form of bright red rashes on the body. High fever and sore throat usually the accompanying symptoms. Bacteria cause the disease and children between the age of 5 and 15 are the most affected by this disease. However, the disease is manageable with antibiotics currently. In the past, it used to be a severe illness due to lack of the right medication.

Antibiotics are effective in controlling the bacteria by speeding recovery as well as reducing the severity of the symptoms. Keep in mind that if scarlet fever is not treated, the illness can result in a severe condition, which usually affects the kidney, heart, and other parts of the body.

Scarlet fever – Symptoms

  1. Strep throat Rash
  2. Red lines
  3. Flushed face
  4. Strawberry tongue
  5. Other symptoms

Children having scarlet fever will show the following signs and symptoms.

1. Strep throat Rash

Both adults and children having scarlet fever will develop a rash. The rashes look like a sunburn or are blotchy red. With time the rashes become fine and finally take on a rough outlook to appear as sandpaper. Usually, the rash is scarlet-colored hence the name scarlet fever.

The scarlet rash starts on the neck, under the arms and the groin, before spreading to other parts of the body. In most cases, the rashes usually come early before a person starts feeling sick, usually 2 or 5 days. They spread at a faster rate to the skin folds, in the armpits, knees and elbows and appear deeper red than the surrounding areas. (1)

The duration of the skin rashes usually varies, but in most cases, it subsides after seven days. But, the skin on the finger, toes, and groin may peel off, a process that may last for many weeks.

2. Red lines

Areas of the skin that have folds usually develop rashes that are deeper red than the ashes in the areas around.

Therefore, conspicuous red lines typically appear in these areas, which are groin, armpits, elbows, knees, and neck.

3. Flushed face

Scarlet fever – SymptomsThe face appears flushed/reddened, and the mouth will have a pale ring around it.

4. Strawberry tongue


Scarlet fever – Symptoms

People with scarlet fever have a red bumpy tongue, which is more often covered by a white coating. This usually occurs during the early stages of the disease.

5. Other symptoms of scarlet fever include:

  • Fever, i.e., temperatures exceeding 101°F/38.3°C
  • Red and sore throat usually with red or white patches
  • Chills
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Swollen glands along the neck
  • Pale skin around the lips

Causes of scarlet fever

The cause of scarlet fever is a bacteria, group A Streptococcus, or Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. The bacteria is the same as the one that causes strep throat. This bacteria usually live in the mouth and the nasal passages, and they can produce toxins or poisons, which causes bright red rashes on the body and causes the tongue to be red.

Be informed that scarlet fever is contagious, and it spreads faster between 2 to 5 days before a person starts feeling ill. The bacteria is found in the saliva, nasal secretion, cough, or sneeze of an infected person. This means that if you come in contact with an infected person, chances are, you’ll get the disease.

Complications with scarlet fever

With antibiotics, the disease usually subsides within two weeks. However, some complications may occur. They include rheumatic fever, kidney diseases, throat abscesses, ear infections, arthritis, and pneumonia.

If treated early, patients will not develop ear infections, throat abscesses, and pneumonia.


Usually, the doctor carries out a physical exam to check for the signs and symptoms of scarlet fever. The doctor usually concentrates on tongue, throat, tonsils, and appearance and texture of rashes. They may also take a look at the enlarged lymph nodes.

In some cases, the doctor will take a throat swam to create a throat culture to determine if group A Streptococcus is present.

Treatment for scarlet fever

The first-line treatment is antibiotics, which kill bacteria. Your child must complete the dosage to prevent complications or further disease development.

Also, some over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen are excellent options for pain-relieving. Ibuprofen and Aspirin can also help but should not be used for children.

Other Home remedies for scarlet fever include Gargling with salt water, eating ice pops, or cream.

Prevention of scarlet fever

  • Practice the following hygienic practices:
  • Thoroughly wash your hands after visiting the toilets, after sneezing/coughing and before eating
  • Cover your mouth while sneezing or coughing
  • Avoiding sharing utensils

When to see a doctor?

You should consult with doctor if you have a fever of 102 F (38.9 C) or higher or a red rash. You should also consult immediately with your doctor if you have tender or swollen glands in the neck.