Scarlet Fever Definition and Symptoms

An illness resulting from infection with group a beta-hemolytic streptococcal bacteria that occurs as a complication of strep throat. Scarlet fever begins with the same symptoms as strep throat-sudden onset of fever and often severe throat pain. Within two days a rash erupts, starting on the chest and back and spreading to cover the entire body.

The key characteristic of the rash is that it feels like sandpaper to the touch

Other symptoms of scarlet fever include

  • Bright red, inflamed (“strawberry”) tongue
  • Bright red color to the natural creases in the skin (under the arms and in the groin)
  • Headache
  • Peeling of the skin on the fingertips, on the tips of the toes, and in the creases of the groin

Diagnostic path of Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever, like strep throat, is contagious and spreads among people through airborne transmission or direct contact with saliva (such as through shared food or eating utensils). The diagnostic path includes culture of the throat to detect the presence of group A strep bacteria, though the symptoms are so characteristic the doctor can usually make the diagnosis on the basis of their presence (clinical diagnosis).

Scarlet fever Treatment

Treatment is with antibiotic medications, typically penicillins or erythromycin. Most people rapidly and fully recover with appropriate antibiotic therapy. Though the infection may resolve without treatment, the risk is very high for the strep bacteria to migrate to other locations in the body, notably the heart valves where it causes rheumatic heart disease.

The infection may also spread to the joints, causing infectious arthritis.

See also PHARYNGITIS; SNEEZE/COUGH ETIQUETTE; TONSILLITIS.

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