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Scarlet Fever

(Scarlatina)

Definition

Scarlet fever is an infection which produces a sore throat, fever, and a specific rash.

Sore Throat Due to Inflammation

© 2009 Nucleus Medical Art, Inc.

Causes    TOP

Scarlet fever is caused by specific bacteria. The bacteria produces a toxin that causes a rash. Scarlet fever usually develops in conjunction with strep throat.

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your chance of scarlet fever include:

  • Untreated strep infection
  • Close contact with someone who has an untreated strep infection
  • Overcrowded conditions, such as a school or daycare

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms may include:

  • High fever
  • Specific, spreading rash that feels like sand paper
  • Flushing in the face with paleness around the mouth
  • Red streaks, called Pastia's lines, on elbows, underarms, and body creases
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Chills
  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Bright red tongue
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting

In rare cases, untreated strep throat infection may cause:

  • Rheumatic fever
  • Kidney damage
  • Spread of the infection to other areas such as the ears, sinuses, or lungs
  • Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome
  • Local abscess

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor may diagnose scarlet fever by the specific rash. Confirmation of scarlet fever can be done with a throat swab or rapid strep antigen detection test.

Treatment    TOP

The infection that causes scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics. It is important to take all the prescribed medication. Doing so will prevent scarlet fever from returning, and also prevent complications.

There is no specific treatment for the rash. After the rash fades, the skin peels for several weeks.

Prevention    TOP

To reduce your chances of getting scarlet fever, take these steps:

  • Avoid contact with people who have untreated strep infections.
  • Wash your hands frequently.
  • Have other household members or contacts tested for strep infection.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://familydoctor.org
Nemours Kids Health
http://www.kidshealth.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca
Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society
http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca

References:

McKinnon HD Jr, Howard T. Evaluating the febrile patient with a rash. Am Fam Physician. 2000;62(4):804-816.
Scarlet fever. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated October 10, 2012. Accessed January 16, 2015.
Streptococcal infections. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated April 2013. Accessed January 16, 2015.
Streptococcus. PEMSoft at EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed January 16, 2015.
Last reviewed March 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD
Last Updated: 1/13/2014

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