What Is Scarlet Fever?

14/08/2014 17:03 | Updated 20 May 2015

scarlet fever rash

Scarlet fever, sometimes referred to as scarlatina, is a bacterial infection that most commonly affects children between the ages of two and eight.

Scarlet fever is caused by the group A strain of the streptococcus bacteria. You can also thank this particular germ for other common childhood illnesses such as impetigo, tonsillitis and otitis media (middle ear infection). The infection enters the body through the throat, which is where symptoms begin. The first sign is usually a sore throat, followed by a high temperature.

However, the most distinctive symptom of scarlet fever is its unique rash. A pinkish-red colour, it can spread to cover large sections of the body. Areas of skin affected by the scarlet fever rash becomes rough and sandpaper-like to the touch.

Other symptoms can include a flushed complexion and a red and/or swollen tongue. It usually takes around six days for symptoms to clear up. You may find that a small dose of paracetamol can relieve discomfort during this time.

If you think your child may have scarlet fever, take him to the GP, who will be able to confirm the infection and prescribe a short course of antibiotics.

Scarlet fever is highly contagious, so keep your child out of school and away from others while they are infected.

Make sure that everything they touch or use - towels, cutlery, cups, sheets - is thoroughly washed after use and not shared with anyone else. Try not to let them touch others, or cough or sneeze without a tissue (which should then be disposed of at once).

Although in popular imagination scarlet fever is often thought of as a 'dead' disease, associated with the Victorian era, cases are in fact on the rise in the UK - and no one is sure why.

In March, we heard that doctors had seen a huge up-tick in scarlet fever patients, with over 3,500 diagnoses - the majority of them children - recorded since September 2013. No one has yet been able to explain the steep increase in scarlet fever cases.

The good news is that, while once potentially fatal, scarlet fever is now generally a mild illness, thanks to the development of antibiotic medicine.

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