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Scarlet Fever

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is type of infectious disease that most commonly affects young children between the age group of 4 and 8 years. This disease arises in some following throat infection by the bacteria Streptococcus and is characterized by appearance of typical rash covering almost whole of the body, high fever and pain in the throat (sore throat).

The disease usually spread through inhalation. There is no vaccine available that can prevent occurrence of the disease however now-a-days with emergence of strong antibiotics, the disease s easily treatable. If children are left untreated then certain serious complications may arise leading involvement of vital organs like the heart, nervous system and joints.

Scarlet Fever Symptoms

The common presenting symptoms include :

  • Appearance of sunburn-like rashes all over the body typically starting in the facial region and then spreading to other body parts. The rashes feel like sandpaper and become pale if pressure is applied.
  • Appearance of red lines on the skin in groin, armpit, elbow and neck region.
  • The face of the affected child appears flushed with pale ring around the mouth.
  • The tongue appears red, bumpy and usually coated with white coating especially during early stage of the disease (strawberry tongue).

These symptoms usually last for a week and then gradually patient recovers usually with peeling of the affected skin. Other symptoms include high fever, pain in the throat region with yellowish to white patches in the throat, painful swallowing, painful swollen neck glands, nausea, vomiting and severe degree of headache.

Untreated scarlet fever may lead to number of complications like spread of infection to other organs like the tonsils (tonsillitis), ear infection (otitis media), skin even blood (septicemia), rarely it may lead to rheumatic fever affecting the cardiac tissue, joints, nervous system and kidneys.

Causes of Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever occurs due to infection by Group A Streptococcus bacteria. These bacteria produce a toxin (erythrogenic toxin) following infection of the bacteria by a specific virus (bacteriophage). This erythrogenic toxin is mainly responsible for symptoms of Scarlet fever. Usually it takes about 1 to 4 days before the manifestation of the disease following infection.

Scarlet fever usually spread via respiratory route but skin contact may also lead to infection. Most commonly young children are affected with equal rate of occurrence in boys and girls. Older children gradually develop protective antibodies against the disease and this disease becomes rare in children beyond 10 years. About 15% to 20% children of school going age group harbor the bacteria in their bodies without any symptoms (carrier state).

Scarlet Fever Treatment

Antibiotic is the mainstay of treatment and completion of therapy is very important. Penicillin is the drug of choice however in penicillin allergy cases other antibiotics are prescribed. Usually within 24 hours of intake of antibiotic patient becomes non infectious. Children who have history of exposure to scarlet fever patients should be monitored carefully for symptoms and treated accordingly. Currently there is no vaccine available for prevention of this disease.


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