Childhood Illness Spotlight: Scarlet Fever

As a parent, you’ve probably handled your fair share of ear infections, colds and stomach bugs to feel like an expert. After all, every child gets them at some point or another, and while they aren’t exactly fun, they are simple enough to treat. But there are other common childhood illnesses that aren’t so easy to spot and need treatment from a doctor to get better. Over the next few months, we’re going to do a ‘spotlight’ segment on these illnesses, so that you know what they are, what to look out for and what you need to do to get better. And we’re going to start with Scarlet fever.

What Is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever is a common and very contagious infection that mostly affects younger children. It’s caused by a strain of bacteria called A beta-haemolytic streptococcus – the same bacteria that causes strep throat. If your child has strep throat, there is a chance it can morph into scarlet fever, so it’s worth keeping an eye out. Scarlet fever happens when the strep bacteria start to produce a toxin that causes a bright red, bumpy rash on the skin. The rash can look a lot like a bad sunburn and will feel rough to the touch, a bit light sandpaper. It will be itchy, but will usually go away after around 6 days (though the peeling might last a little while). If your child develops a rash like this, you need to take them to a doctor for a check-up.


What Are the Symptoms?

The main sign of scarlet fever is that tell-tale rash. It usually starts on the neck and face, and will leave a clear area around the mouth. After a few days it will spread to the chest and back, and then on to the rest of the body. In areas where the skin creases, like the underarms, elbows and groin, the rash will form red streaks. Along with the rash, scarlet fever can also cause:

  • An inflamed, sore throat
  • A fever above 101°F
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • A whitish or yellow dusting on the tongue
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Body aches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Red, swollen tonsils dotted with white or yellow specs

If your child has any of these symptoms or a rash, you should take them to a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.


How Is Scarlet Fever Diagnosed?

The diagnosis process for scarlet fever is pretty straightforward. As well as a visual inspection, the doctor will usually order a rapid strep test or a throat culture to check for strep bacteria. This is a painless swab of the throat, and the results are quick to come back.


How Is It Treated?

Once confirmed, scarlet fever can be easily treated with antibiotics. This will target and kill the infection itself within around 10 days, although some of the symptoms like swollen glands and tonsils may take a little longer to go back to normal. While the antibiotics are doing their job, you can also give your child ibuprofen to help with the throat pain. It’s often painful for children to eat when they have scarlet fever, so switch to soft foods and soothing liquids. Warm, nutritious soups, cool drinks and ice creams can all help soothe a sore throat and keep your child feeling comfortable. If their rash is itchy, make sure their fingernails are trimmed short, so that they don’t damage their skin when they scratch.

Unfortunately scarlet fever isn’t preventable. It’s a highly contagious form of bacterial infection that spreads through sneezing, coughing and contact with the skin. If your child catches scarlet fever, it’s best to keep them away from other children, older people and adults until they are better. It’s also safest to keep things like their toothbrush, glasses and eating utensils separate to avoid cross-contamination, and thoroughly wash them with very hot soapy water.


That’s a lot to try and remember when you’re trying to comfort a sick and distressed child, and it would be easy to accidentally miss a dose of antibiotic or give them a double dose of medicine. The Medi-Redi medicine timer is the ideal way to store and track medication times, dates and doses, so you have one less thing to think about during that tough time. Designed specifically to hold bottles, sachets, blister packs, instructions and spoons in one place, you never have to worry about missing a dose again.


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