Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria called group A beta-hemolytic streptococcus (GABHS). These bacteria release a poison (toxin) that travels through your child's bloodstream and causes a rash.
The strep A bacteria live in the nose and throat. When someone who has the disease coughs or sneezes, the bacteria are spread onto surfaces. A child can get sick by touching one of these surfaces and then touching his or her nose, mouth, or eyes. A child can also get it by sharing cups or eating utensils with someone who is sick. Contact with open sores from group A strep skin infections can also spread the disease.
Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. They can start with:
The rash starts about 1 to 2 days after the first symptoms. The red, sandpaper-like rash appears on the neck, forehead, cheeks, and chest. It may then spread to the arms and back. The rash usually starts to fade after 2 to 7 days. The skin in the areas of the rash may peel after the infection is over, especially on the hands, feet, and genitals.
The symptoms of scarlet fever can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. The physical exam will include looking at the rash. The rash of scarlet fever is different from other rashes.
Your child may also have a throat swab. This is done to confirm strep throat as the source of the scarlet fever. This may be a quick test called a rapid strep test. This may test positive for GABHS right away. If the test is negative, part of the throat swab may be sent to a lab. The lab will let the bacteria grow and see if there is any GABHS in the sample.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment for scarlet fever is the same as for strep throat. Your child's healthcare provider will prescribe an antibiotic medicine. Make sure your child finishes all of the medicine, even when he or she feels better.
Other treatments may include:
Don't send your child back to school or daycare until he or she has been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours. Tell other parents of children who may have been exposed.
Talk with your child’s healthcare providers about the risks, benefits, and possible side effects of all medicines.
There is no vaccine to prevent strep throat or scarlet fever. Children who have strep throat or scarlet fever should not go to school or to daycare for at least 24 hours after starting antibiotics.
The best way to prevent scarlet fever is to wash your hands often. Don’t share eating utensils, linens, towels, or other personal items. Anyone who has a sore throat should wash his or her hands often. To wash your hands well:
If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based cleanser with at least 60% alcohol.
Call the healthcare provider if your child has:
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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