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Scarlet fever – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Scarlet fever is an infection characterized by rashes, a sore throat, and high fever. It is now treatable with antibiotics and is not considered as deadly as it was in past centuries. The infection is highly contagious that spreads from one person to another via droplets expelled when an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that affects people with strep throat. It is rare but can be extremely dangerous if left untreated. Otherwise known as scarlatina, scarlet fever covers your body in bright, red rashes, hence its name. Children between 5-15 years of age are the most susceptible to scarlet fever. 

What are the symptoms of scarlet fever?

  • Rashes : The primary symptom is the  rash.  Red rashes that look similar to sunburns appear on your body with a texture like sandpaper. It begins typically on the neck or face and spreads to the trunk, arms and legs. If pressure is applied to the reddened skin, it will turn pale. The folds of skin on your armpits, groin, knees, elbows, and neck are usually a deeper red than the surrounding rashes. You might also notice a pale ring around the mouth on your flushed face. Your tongue will be red, bumpy and sometimes, covered with a white coating, and this condition is called a strawberry tongue. These symptoms are what give scarlet fever its name. These rashes subside within a week, and your skin begins peeling in the affected areas.
  • A high fever, usually at 101 °F ( 38.3 °C) 
  • Chills
  • A sore and red throat often gets accompanied by white or yellow patches. 
  • Headache 
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Enlarged glands in your neck. 

When to call a doctor 

Red rashes, high fever, and a sore throat that occurs together needs immediate medical attention .Early diagnosis and treatment can potentially save your life. 

Call 1860-500-1066 to book an appointment

What causes scarlet fever?

It is caused by a type of bacteria that also causes strep throat. The infection spreads from one person to another through air and contact. Usually, the incubation period is 2-4 days. Children are more prone to scarlet fever than adults. 


If scarlet fever goes untreated, the bacteria may spread to the:

  • Tonsils
  • Lungs
  • Skin
  • Kidneys
  • Blood
  • Middle ear

Rarely, scarlet fever can lead to rheumatic fever, a serious condition that can affect the:

  • Heart
  • Joints
  • Nervous system
  • Skin

How can scarlet fever be treated?

The primary treatment administered to patients is antibiotics. Make sure the course of the medication gets completed. If you fail to complete the course, you might increase the risk of developing complications.

Can lifestyle and Home remedies mitigate scarlet fever?

Here are some steps you can take to reduce discomfort and pain:

  • Drink adequate fluids: Drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and keep your throat moist.
  • Gargle with salt water: Gargling with salt water may help ease your throat pain.
  • Humidify the air: If you stay in a place with very little humidity, the dry air can irritate your sore throat and cause discomfort and pain. You can use a cool-mist humidifier to solve this problem.
  • Eat soft and warm  foods: Warm liquids such as hot water, hot milk, soup, can soothe a sore throat. You can also suck on lozenges to alleviate pain and discomfort in your throat.
  • Avoid irritants: keep your surroundings free from cigarette smoke, chemical substances, cleaning products, and other strong scents.


Scarlet fever is not as dangerous as it used to be in the past, thanks to the development in medicine and antibiotics. However, leaving it unattended can lead to severe complications and possible death. Make sure you receive immediate medical care if you are diagnosed.  

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is scarlet fever fatal?

Scarlet fever used to be very dangerous in the past. In the current age, antibiotics and treatments can cure a patient with scarlet fever. However, when left untreated it can lead to severe complications, including fatality. When the case becomes severe, the bacteria become invasive. It may lead to necrotizing fasciitis ,  toxic shock syndrome, and septicemia. It may also lead to heart complications and even death.

What are the long-term side effects of scarlet fever?

The long-term effects are rheumatic fever, a serious condition that can affect the:

  • Heart
  • Joints
  • Nervous system
  • Skin

How long is scarlet fever contagious?

Typically, Scarlet fever lasts for about a week. You can transmit the infection to other people up to six days before the onset of your symptoms until a day after you take your first dose of antibiotics. If you do not take the antibiotics, you will be contagious for up to three weeks after your symptoms show up.

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At Apollo, we believe that easily accessible, reliable health information can make managing health conditions an empowering experience. AskApollo Online Health Library team consists of medical experts who create curated peer-reviewed medical content that is regularly updated and is easy-to-understand.
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