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Scarlet Fever Treatment: Everything You Need to Know

Scarlet Fever Treatment: Everything You Need to Know

What is scarlet fever?

This disease, also known as scarlatina, is a bacterial disease that may develop from a case of strep throat. In the past, it was considered a serious and life-threatening illness especially in children. Fortunately, scarlet fever treatment has improved over the years.

Scarlet fever most often occurs in those aged 5 to 15 years old. Left untreated, it can affect the heart, kidneys, and other organs.

Scarlet fever is generally characterized by a rash all over the body, sore throat, and high fever. Scarlet fever treatment consists of antibiotics, which has reduced mortality rate over the decades.

What causes scarlet fever?

Group A streptococcus is the bacterium that produces a toxin that causes the reddish rash for which scarlet fever is named.

Since bacteria live in the nose and throat of humans, it is easily transmissible. People who spread the bacteria are not necessarily sick. A sneeze or a cough is sufficient to expel droplets carrying the bacteria. Other people can inhale the droplets or touch objects with droplets on it, and then touch their mouth or nose. They may share utensils or plates with people who are infected with the bacteria. They may also contract it by touching sores on persons infected with streptococcus A.

The incubation period for scarlet fever ranges from 2 to 5 days. The rash can show up within a day or two, although it can come ahead of the other symptoms or up to 7 days later. It can also initially appear on your neck, armpits and the area where the stomach meets the thighs. When the rash fades, which occurs in about another 7 days, the skin around the fingertips, toes and the groin will normally peel and this peeling can last weeks.

Signs and symptoms

  • Apart from the fever and rash, other symptoms of scarlet fever may include:
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Strawberry tongue. This is when the tongue is covered with numerous red bumps. A white coating also covers it which, when it peels, leaves the tongue red and swollen.
  • Lines may also form as folds of skin further redden
  • Flushed face with a pale ring around the mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty swallowing

Scarlet fever is easily diagnosable via a rapid strep test.

Scarlet fever risk factors

Children aged 5 to 15 years old are most often affected. Adults with school-aged kids may also be affected. People who interact with children are also exposed to scarlet fever, such as teachers and daycare employees.


Bacteria causing scarlet fever can spread to the tonsils, lungs, skin, kidneys, blood and even the middle ear. If left untreated, this condition can develop into rheumatic fever which is an inflammatory illness capable of damaging the heart, joints, nervous system, and skin.

Scarlet fever treatment

Scarlet fever treatment reduces the length of sickness, alleviates symptoms, and prevents bacteria from spreading to others. It also prevents the disease from becoming more serious.

Penicillin and amoxicillin are the antibiotics of choice for scarlet fever treatment. However, those with allergies to these medicines may be given narrow-spectrum cephalosporins such as cephalexin. Clindamycin, azithromycin and clarithromycin are also alternatives.

How can I avoid scarlet fever?

There is no existing vaccine for the illness, so apart from scarlet fever treatment, prevention methods are the next best thing.

These include:

  • Proper hand hygiene
  • Keeping plates and utensils separate
  • Covering one’s mouth and nose

Key takeaway

Scarlet fever, also known as scarlatina, is a disease caused by a bacterium called group A streptococcus. It mostly affects children and produces high fever, a rash all over the body, and sore throat. Scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics, like penicillin and amoxicillin. It can also be prevented by keeping your hands clean, covering your mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing, and using separate plates and utensils when eating or drinking.

Learn more about Infectious Diseases here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Louise Nichole Logarta Updated May 17
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel