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.

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What causes scarlet fever?

Group A beta hemolytic streptococci (GABHS) bacteria are the cause of scarlet fever. These gram-positive coccus-shaped (elliptically shaped) organisms, while infecting a body site, can produce an erythrogenic (producing a red colored) toxin. This toxin is responsible for causing the sandpaper-like red-colored skin rash. Researchers have shown that about 80% of children who reach age 10 have developed lifelong protective antibodies against the Streptococcus exotoxin.

What is the incubation period for scarlet fever?

The incubation period for scarlet fever has a fairly wide range from about 12 hours to seven days. Individuals are contagious during this first subclinical or incubation period and during the acute illness. The primary strep infection is the contagious aspect. The rash itself is not contagious.

What are risk factors for scarlet fever?

Risk factors for scarlet fever are overcrowded conditions (schools, dormitories, institutional settings). Children 5-15 years of age are the population that is usually seen with scarlet fever, although it can occur in some older children and adults. Scarlet fever is rare in children younger than 2 years old because of maternal antibodies.

What is the contagious period for scarlet fever?

As stated previously, the contagious period for scarlet fever occurs during both the initial subclinical (before development of symptoms) phase, about 12 hours to seven days after initial contact with the bacteria, and during the acute phase when the person has the rash and fever.

What are scarlet fever symptoms and signs?

Scarlet fever symptoms and signs may include a reddish sore throat, a fever (101 F or above), and a red rash with a sandpaper-like texture, and a tongue that resembles a "strawberry" (red with small bumps). Some patients will have whitish coating on the tongue or the throat and may have swollen glands, headache, nausea and vomiting, and/or body aches. The classic description of the rash of scarlet fever has been described as "goose bumps on a sunburned skin."

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/22/2016

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