Scarlet fever (patient information)
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Scarlet fever On the Web
Scarlet fever, sometimes called scarlatina, is a disease caused by a bacteria called group A Streptococcus or "group A strep", the same bacteria that causes strep throat. Scarlet fever is a rash that sometimes occurs in people that have strep throat. People with scarlet fever typically also have a high fever and a strawberry-like appearance of the tongue. The rash of scarlet fever is usually seen in children under the age of 18.
What are the symptoms of Scarlet fever?
The most common symptoms of scarlet fever are:
- Scarlet fever begins with a rash that shows up as tiny red bumps. It most often begins on the chest and stomach but can then spread all over the body. It looks like a sunburn and feels like a rough piece of sandpaper. Most of the time it is redder in the creases of the elbows, arm pits, and groin areas. The rash lasts about 2-7 days. After the rash is gone, the skin on the tips of the fingers and toes begins to peel. Some other common signs of scarlet fever are:
- A flush face with a pale area around the lips;
- A red and sore throat that can have white or yellow patches;
- A fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit (38.3 degrees Celsius) or higher;
- Swollen glands in the neck; and
- A whitish coating can appear on the surface of the tongue. The tongue itself looks like a strawberry because the normal bumps on the tongue look bigger.
Other less common signs of illness include:
- Feeling sick to your stomach (nausea) and throwing up (vomiting);
- Having a headache; and
- Having body aches.
What causes Scarlet fever?
This illness can be caught from contact with the sick person because this germ is carried in the mouth and nasal fluids. The disease can be spread through contact with droplets shed when an infected person coughs or sneezes. If you touch your mouth, nose, or eyes after touching something that has these fluids on them, you may become ill. Also, if you drink from the same glass or eat from the same plate as the sick person, you could also become ill. The best way to keep from getting sick is to wash your hands often and avoid sharing eating utensils. It is especially important for anyone with a sore throat to wash his or her hands often and not share eating or drinking utensils.
Who is at highest risk?
Scarlet fever usually develops in children, just like colds or the flu are common in children.
When to seek urgent medical care?
If you think your child has scarlet fever, take your child to his or her doctor right away. The doctor may give your child drugs that fight germs (antibiotics). Do not let your child return to daycare or school until he or she has taken the antibiotics for at least 24 hours.
To diagnose the cause of your child’s rash or sore throat, your doctor or healthcare provider will examine your child and swab the back of the throat with a cotton swab. The swab will be then used for a throat culture or a rapid antigen test (sometimes called a “rapid strep test”) to see if there is a group A strep infection.
If your doctor or health care provider diagnoses you or your child with scarlet fever, the doctor will give you a drug that fight germs (antibiotic) for your child. Be sure to give your child the drug as the doctor tells you. Never share any of the drug with anyone else. Also, be sure to ask your doctor about drugs you can buy in the store for sore throat pain.
Warm liquids like soup or cold foods like popsicles or milkshakes help to ease the pain of the sore throat. Offer these to your child often, especially when he/she has a fever since the body needs a lot of fluid when it is sick with a fever. A cool mist humidifier will help to keep the air in your child's room moist which will keep the throat from getting too dry and more sore. Your child needs plenty of rest.
Where to find medical care for Scarlet fever?
What to expect (Outlook/Prognosis)?
Although complications may arise if not treated, scarlet fever goes away after a course of antibiotics.