Scarlet Fever (Scarlatina)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: John Mersch, MD, FAAP
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Scarlet Fever Symptoms and Signs

Sore Throat: Virus or Strep?

Are you wondering if your sore throat requires antibiotics? Strep throat, named for the Streptococcus bacterium that causes the condition, is a particularly severe form of sore throat that is best treated with antibiotics. Strep throat can strike both children and adults, but only about five to ten percent of sore throats are caused by a bacterial infection.

Scarlet fever facts

  • Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria that results in a rash and fever.
  • Group a beta hemolytic streptococci produce an erythrogenic toxin that causes scarlet fever.
  • The incubation period for scarlet fever is about 12 hours to seven days.
  • Risk factors for scarlet fever include overcrowding, especially with children age 5 to 15 years old and the communal use of utensils, towels, or other substances.
  • The contagious period for scarlet fever ranges from about 12 hours after exposure to the bacteria, even if the individual shows no symptoms, and during the acute phase when the person has a rash and fever; it ends after the fever has gone away for at least 12 hours.
  • The signs and symptoms of scarlet fever include fever of 101 F or higher, a sandpaper-like rash, strawberry-like tongue texture, and other features that are relatively nonspecific such as nausea and vomiting, headache, swollen glands, and body aches.
  • The diagnosis of scarlet fever is usually preliminarily made by the patient's history and physical exam, especially if the person has the typical rash and fever; however, isolation of streptococci from the patient usually provides the definitive diagnosis.
  • The treatment for scarlet fever is antibiotics that are effective against the infecting streptococci.
  • Complications of scarlet fever can include rheumatic fever and kidney problems; other serious problems can occur rarely, including death.
  • The prognosis of scarlet fever, if treated early and effectively, is very good; such treatment usually prevents complications. However, if complications develop, the prognosis decreases depending upon the involvement of other organ systems.
  • It's possible to reduce or prevent the chance of getting scarlet fever by good hand-washing techniques and by not using others utensils, towels, or other personal grooming products. There is no vaccine for humans against scarlet fever.

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection caused by group A Streptococcus bacteria. This illness usually occurs in a few people (about 10%) who have strep throat and occasionally streptococcal skin infections or even wound infections. Scarlet fever is also known as scarlatina; group A Streptococcus is often shortened to read as "group-A strep" or group a beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS). Scarlet fever is mainly known for its sunburned-skin-colored sandpaper-like skin rash that is associated with fever.

Picture of rash on the arm due to scarlet fever
Picture of rash on the arm due to scarlet fever. Source: CDC
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/22/2016

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