Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is different from other early childhood diseases because it is not caused by a virus, but rather by a bacteria, the group A streptococcus.

This infection that was once a plague in the time of our ancestors, but it is now a lot less worrisome since it can be treated with antibiotics. It mostly affects kids from the ages of 5 to 15.


Since the bacterial infection is located in the throat, scarlet fever is transmitted via the respiratory tract. The rash itself is not contagious.

Incubation and contagion

Incubation lasts from 2 to 5 days before the sore throat first appears and the child is contagious 2 days before the sore throat and up until 24 hours after he starts taking antibiotics. This means that the later you talk to a doctor, the longer your child will be contagious.


The illness starts with a sudden sore throat and fever nearing the 40 °C. The ill person can also gets chills, a faster heart rate, swollen neck lymph glands and trouble swallowing. Scarlet fever usually comes with general uneasiness, headaches, stomach pain and vomiting.


The rash appears 18 to 24 hours after the sore throat and fever. This rash caused by a toxin produced by the group A streptococcus is unique to scarlet fever: it starts on the chest and then spreads to the rest of the body within 2 days, with the exception of the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.

The skin looks sunburned and is rough to the touch, like sandpaper. Tiny dark red pimples cover the skin. The rash, which is more noticeable in flexion creases such as elbows and the groin, will go away in 4 to 5 days.


Since the coming of penicillin and cortisone, complications attributed to scarlet fever are very rare since the antibiotics treatment directly attacks the streptococcus and prevents it from spreading. However, it is always possible for the bacteria to attack the kidneys,heart and joints.


Penicillin, an antibiotic, is usually prescribed for 10 days. To treat fever and pain, it is recommended to give acetaminophen, following the dosage recommended on the bottle, and of course keep the child well hydrated. For itchiness, ask your pharmacist. He will know what to recommend depending on the child's age. Usually, an antihistaminic can be recommended, as well as applying a cream or lotion to soothe itchiness. Since many products are readily available on the shelves, a specialist will be able to direct you to the right product.


There is no vaccine against scarlet fever and it is possible to catch it more than once in a lifetime.


No particular recommendations for pregnant women. It is still preferable to avoid any contact with someone infected with scarlet fever.

Under no circumstances should this article be used as medical advice. This information is provided as a reference only.

Image de Sonia Cosentino

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