Scarlet Fever Overview

Transmission, Symptoms, and Treatment

scarlet fever rash
Scarlet fever rash feels like rough sandpaper.. Image courtesy CDC

Scarlet fever is brought to you by group A Streptococcus, the same bacteria that causes strep throat. Scarlet fever shows up as a rash on some people that are suffering from strep throat, usually kids younger than 18. As the name suggests, patients will usually have a high fever and scarlet refers to bright red tongues.


You get scarlet fever by touching the nasal fluids (snot) or sputum of people with group A strep.

If they cough, sneeze or touch you with contaminated hands, you can get it. The droplets of snot have to get from their mouth or nose to your mouth or nose.

For instance, if a scarlet fever or strep throat patient covers his mouth and coughs then shakes hands with you, you're contaminated. If you then touch your nose, eyes or mouth, you run the risk of infection. Likewise, sharing food, plates, utensils or cups with an infected person could make you sick.

To avoid getting scarlet fever, wash your hands often and don't share food or drink. Don't share forks or spoons, either. Anybody with a sore throat needs to wash her hands often and keep her silverware to herself.


Scarlet fever shows up as a rash of little red bumps, which starts on the chest and belly but might spread all over and feel rough like sandpaper. Usually, the rash is darker inside elbows, armpits, and groin areas. It goes away after 2 to 7 days.

Once the rash goes away, the tips of the fingers and toes begin to peel.

Other symptoms include:

  • Flushed face, but may be pale around the lips
  • Strep throat
  • 101 Fahrenheit fever or higher
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Sometimes nausea and vomiting
  • Sometimes a headache
  • Sometimes body aches

A light-colored coating might appear on the tongue.

Some describe the tongue as looking like a strawberry because the normal bumps on the tongue look bigger.

To be sure this is really scarlet fever, your doctor has to do the same test done for strep throat. If you think you or your child has scarlet fever, go to the doctor today.


Junior doesn't feel good right now, but once he hears about the treatment he might feel a little better. Basically, take some medicine the doctor prescribes, skip school and kick back on the couch eating ice cream for a whole day.

To be more specific: Antibiotics will fix this, but you have to get those from your doctor. Once you or your child starts taking antibiotics, don't spend time in crowded places like classrooms, daycares or offices until you've taken them for at least 24 hours. If your child is the sick one, don't let her go to school or daycare until she's taken the antibiotics for at least 24 hours. Take all the antibiotics as directed, even if you start to feel better early.

Home remedies might help strep throat and scarlet fever symptoms.

Try soothing your sore throat with soup or broth. Cold and creamy foods like popsicles and milkshakes also soothe sore throats (face it, ice cream is the nectar of the gods and makes everything feel better). Cold treats also help when there's a fever.

Some folks feel steam or mist helps their sore throats feel better. Also, a good nap will do wonders.

Why It's So Important to Take ALL the Antibiotics

Scarlet fever can lead to some pretty bad complications, the worst of which is rheumatic fever or rheumatic heart disease. Antibiotics make the annoying symptoms--like sore throat and that unattractive rash--go away in a day or two, but the important work of really killing the strep happens after that. If you don't finish your antibiotics, you run the risk of allowing the strep A bacteria to return.

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