Scarlet Fever

The upper torso of a child with Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever (second disease) is a bacterial infection commonly occurring with children caused by bacteria from the Streptococcal family. These infections are now very uncommon because of the widespread use of antibiotics for minor infections.

The patient is unwell with a fever and sore throat for a few hours to two days before the typical “scarlet red” rash develops. The scarlet rash consists of bright red, pinhead size dots on the face, neck, armpits, groin and other areas. The skin immediately around the mouth often remains a normal colour. The tonsils are usually enlarged, red and painful and the tongue may be red and swollen. The skin of the palms and soles may flake away in severe cases.

Only children who are sensitive to the toxin from the bacteria develop the scarlet fever rash. The bacteria is contagious through exposure to one infected such as via sneezing and coughing. Most children will develop antibodies to it and are immune.  Once a child has scarlet fever, they should also become immune to the bacteria.

The diagnosis is confirmed by taking a swab from the throat and by specific blood tests. Scarlet fever was once considered a more serious condition as late complicationa could occur, but today it is a mild condition that can be very effectively treated and prevented by antibiotics such as penicillin and erythromycin. There is no current vaccination.

(Last modified: 3rd Nov 2014)

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