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What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever, also known as scarlatina, is a contagious infection caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat. In some cases, if your child has strep throat, she may also develop scarlet fever. In addition to your child not feeling well, scarlet fever also results in a fine, "sandpaper-like" rash that consists of small, red bumps.

  • commonly occurs between the ages of 2 and 10
  • spread from direct contact with a child who is infected
  • rash shows up one to two days after infection
  • antibiotics can treat the infection
  • children with scarlet fever should stay home for 24 hours after starting antibiotics

Is scarlet fever common?

Scarlet fever most commonly occurs between the ages of 2 and 10.

Scarlet Fever | Symptoms & Causes

What are the symptoms of scarlet fever?

Before the rash develops, scarlet fever can cause a variety of symptoms in your child including:

  • fever
  • sore throat
  • chills
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • stomach ache
  • coated white tongue

The rash begins about one to two days after the initial infection. The red, fine, "sandpaper-like" rash is usually found on the neck, forehead, cheeks, and chest, and then may spread to the arms and back. The rash usually begins to fade after three to four days.

What causes scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is caused by toxins that are produced by bacteria. It's usually associated with a strep infection (like strep throat). It may also be associated with wounds or burns that become infected. It is spread from direct contact with a child who is infected, usually through coughs, sneezes, or sharing food or drink.

Scarlet Fever | Diagnosis & Treatments

How is scarlet fever diagnosed?

The rash of scarlet fever is unique and may be recognized by your child's doctor. In addition, your child's doctor may order a throat swab to confirm the diagnosis of strep throat as the source of the scarlet fever.

How is scarlet fever treated?

Treatment for scarlet fever is the same as for strep throat. It's important not to send your child back to school or daycare until she has been on antibiotics for at least 24 hours. Also, be sure to notify others who may have been exposed.

Your child's doctor will prescribe an antibiotic to treat the infection. Other treatment options may include:

  • warm saline mouth gargles (to relieve the sore throat)
  • increased fluid intake
  • acetaminophen for fever (do not give aspirin)

Scarlet Fever | Programs & Services