Scarlet Fever

A rare streptococcal infection causing a red rash and a sore throat

  • Most common between the ages of 6 and 12
  • Gender, genetics, and lifestyle are not significant factors

Once a common and dangerous childhood disease, scarlet fever has become rare in developed countries since the introduction of antibiotics. This infection is caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pyogenes, transmitted in microscopic droplets from coughs and sneezes. A prominent feature of the condition is a widespread scarlet rash.

What are the symptoms?

About 2–5 days after infection, the following symptoms may develop:

  • Sore throat and headache.

  • Fever and vomiting.

  • Raised, red rash, spreading rapidly on the neck, trunk, armpits, and groin.

A thick, white coating may develop on the tongue, disappearing in a few days to leave the tongue bright red with a pimpled “strawberry” appearance.

What might be done?

Scarlet fever is usually diagnosed from the symptoms. To confirm the diagnosis, a throat swab may be taken.

The infection is treated with antibiotics, and the symptoms usually begin to improve within 24–48 hours. Most people recover within a week.

Scarlet fever

The characteristic red rash of scarlet fever begins on the trunk and is often most obvious in the armpits.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

Back to top