What is Scarlet Fever?

As scarlet fever cases reach an almost 50-year high, and nearly 600 cases a week are being diagnosed in England alone, what exactly is this disease?

Scarlet fever is a highly contagious disease caused by an infection with bacteria in the group A Streptococcus (the same bacteria that cause strep throat).

It mainly affects children with those aged between 2-8 being most at risk.

Scarlet fever is treatable with antibiotics and usually is a mild illness, but it needs to be treated to prevent rare but serious long-term health problems.

There is no vaccine.

The incubation period for scarlet fever is about 12 hours to seven days.

Scarlet fever is usually spread by the aerosol route (inhalation), but may also be spread by skin contact or anything capable of carrying infection including skin cells, hair, clothing and bedding.

As it’s so contagious, scarlet fever is likely to affect someone in close contact with a person with a sore throat or skin infection caused by streptococcus bacteria.

Early symptoms to look out for are a sore throat, headache and fever with a pinkish/red sandpapery rash appearing within a day or two.

The rash usually first appears on the chest and stomach before spreading to other parts of the body.

Scarlet fever is usually treated with a 10-day course of antibiotics, often in the form of penicillin or amoxicillin tablets, although liquid may be used for young children.

The fever usually gets better within 24 hours of starting antibiotics, with the other symptoms disappearing within a few days.

If scarlet fever has been caught as a result of a throat infection, the fever usually goes within 3 to 5 days, and the sore throat passes soon afterward.

The scarlet fever rash usually fades on the sixth day after sore throat symptoms began, but skin that was covered by rash may begin to peel. This peeling may last 10 days.

You should keep your child away from nursery or school for at least 24 hours after starting antibiotic treatment.

Adults with scarlet fever should also stay off work for at least 24 hours after starting treatment.

You can also take some simple self care measures such as:-

– drinking plenty of cool fluids
– eating soft foods (if your throat is painful)
– taking paracetamol to bring down a high temperature
– using calamine lotion or antihistamine tablets to relieve itching

Public Health England (PHE)  expects a further rise in cases in the next few weeks as the peak season for the fever occurs, usually between late March and mid April. Currently, Yorkshire, the Humber, London and the East and West Midlands are being badly hit.

For further information go to the NHS Choices website.


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