Scarlet Fever: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment


Scarlet fever, also known as scarlatina, is a bacterial illness that can develop in people who have strep throat or strep skin infections. It is characterized by a bright red rash on the body, looking like a sunburn, and usually accompanied with a high fever and sore throat. Scarlet fever is common in children at the age of 5 to 15. Scarlet Fever is considered as a contagious disease because it can spread from one person to another by means of droplets and other nasal or respiratory secretions. The annual incidence of scarlet fever is estimated to be 0.3 cases per 1000 per year.


Scarlet fever is caused by group A Streptococcus, or Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. These bacteria can produce a erythrogenic toxin that causes the bright red rash on the body.


The rash is the most common symptom of scarlet fever. It usually begins as a red blotchy rash and becomes fine and rough like sandpaper. The rash begins on the neck, groin, and under the arms. It can then spread to the rest of the body. Other common symptoms of scarlet fever include:

  • Red lines
  • Red face
  • “Strawberry” tongue
  • Sore and red throat
  • Fever above 101°F
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Whitish coating on the tonsils and throat
  • Headache
  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing


To diagnose scarlet fever, several tests and procedures can be done:

  • Physical exam. The doctor will look at the patient’s throat, tongue, and tonsils to check for signs of scarlet fever. The doctor will also look for enlarged lymph nodes and examine the appearance and texture of the rash.
  • Rapid strep test. A rapid strep test involves a quick throat swab. The test can show the presence of group A streptococcus bacteria within a few minutes.
  • Throat swab. If the doctor suspects you have a strep throat, he might swab your throat and tonsils. The swab can collect materials containing bacteria.


Scarlet fever is typically treated with antibiotics and they are generally curative. Antibiotics can kill bacteria and help the immune system fight off the bacteria causing the infection. It is necessary to complete the entire course of the prescribed medication, which is nearly 10 days. This will help prevent the infection from causing further complications or reoccurrence.

Besides, the doctor may suggest other measures that may improve the symptoms:

  • Take certain over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, for fever and pain.
  • Gargle with warm salty water to relieve mouth and throat pain.
  • Drink a lot of water. It can help keep your throat moist and avoid dehydration.
  • Add moisture to the air indoors. A cool humid environment may help ease a sore throat.


Sep 10, 2019

A team of scientists led by Imperial College London have discovered a new strain of group A streptococcus bacteria.

Group A streptococcus (or Strep A) is known to cause scarlet fever, throat infections and—in very rare cases—invasive disease, where the bacterium enters the bloodstream or tissue and can trigger sepsis and toxic shock.

In 2016 there was a rise in the number of serious, invasive cases due to Strep A. Most cases in previous years were caused by strains emm3 and emm4, but emm1 strain increased significantly in 2016. This suggested the emm1 strain may have changed in some way—and was potentially getting ‘fitter’. The serious invasive infection of Strep A is associated to the emm1 strain.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.