If you have kids, you know that young children get sick a lot. It is a natural part of the development of their immune system. With coughs and colds and other bugs passed around at playgroups, preschools, etc., and children passing the germ through the family, it can feel like someone is always sick. At times it can be hard to know what’s ailing your child, and whether you should seek medical attention or not.
Here’s a look at the childhood illness Scarlet Fever.
What is scarlet fever?
Although scarlet fever is not very well known anymore, it used to be more wide spread and very dangerous. When my daughter was diagnosed with scarlet fever, the only thing my husband knew about the infection was that it was what killed Beth in Little Women. Although it sounds quite exotic, it’s caused by a fairly common place bacteria: Group A streptococcus (normally called strep). (1) This is the same bacteria responsible for infections like strep throat. The difference is that some strep bacteria produce a toxin. This toxin is what causes the rash that is indicative of scarlet fever. Not everyone reacts to the toxin even if it is produced.
What are the symptoms of scarlet fever?
With my daughter, she began by throwing up (without any diarrhea). We originally thought that she just had a tummy bug, but then instead of getting better, she developed a sore throat and fever. Her fever was what really concerned us; it kept going up, even after giving her Calpol (children’s paracetamol). Her face looked very red, almost like she’d been sun burnt. Then she developed a rash that spread down her back and chest. Eventually it covered her whole body. The rash doesn’t seem to itch, although it is uncomfortable, and it is rough to the touch. Although we hadn’t noticed it on our own, the doctor pointed out the appearance of her tongue as well. Not only are there the white spots on her tongue and throat that you normally see with strep infections, her tongue has weird red bumps on it. He described it as looking like a strawberry.
Although tummy upset isn’t normally listed as a symptom of strep infections, a General Practitioner we spoke with said that it’s a common early symptom in children. As you can imagine from the name, scarlet fever is characterized by two parts: the scarlet (red face and rash) and fever (often very high). (2) Other symptoms are similar to tonsillitis.
How do you treat scarlet fever?
Scarlet fever needs to be treated with antibiotics. (3) The antibiotics are needed to eliminate the streptococcus bacteria. Penicillin is the antibiotic of choice, but alternatives are available if your child has a penicillin allergy. Over-the-counter medications, especially for the first couple of days, will also be needed to help control the fever and make your child more comfortable. You should seek professional health care immediately if you suspect that your child has scarlet fever.
(1) “Infections: Scarlet Fever”, KidsHealth
(2) “Scarlet Fever”, reviewed by Dr John Pillinger, netdoctor
(3) “Scarlet Fever” Patient UK
Disclaimer: I am a parent, not a healthcare professional. If you have serious concerns about your child’s health, consult your pediatrician or other healthcare provider.