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What is Scarlet Fever

Learn About Symptoms of Scarlet Fever


Updated January 20, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Scarlet fever is an infection that is caused by group A streptococcus, the same bacteria that causes strep throat. Scarlet fever, also known as scarlatina, is basically strep throat that includes a rash. It occurs mainly in children under the age of 18.


Symptoms of scarlet fever include:

  • Red rash that feels like sandpaper - typically starts on the chest and spreads to the arms and legs
    This rash may last between 2 and 7 days. After the rash disappears, the skin on the fingers and toes may peel.
  • Sore Throat
  • Fever
  • Pink or red color to the face with pale area around the lips
  • "Strawberry tongue" - red, swollen bumps on the tongue with whitish coating
  • Swollen glands in the neck

Less common symptoms of scarlet fever may include:

  • Upset stomach or vomiting
  • Headache
  • Body aches


Scarlet fever is diagnosed in the same way as strep throat. A throat swab is taken and either a rapid test is performed or it is cultured to see if the streptococcus bacteria is present. The rapid test can show a positive result in 5 - 10 minutes but the culture may take up to two days to get results.


Scarlet fever must be treated with antibiotics to kill the streptococcus bacteria that is causing the infection. If your child has scarlet fever, he will need to be treated with antibiotics for at least 24 hours before returning to school or daycare to be sure he is no longer contagious.

You can also give your child fever-reducing medications, such as Tylenol or Motrin, to help make him more comfortable and ease the pain of the sore throat. Cold foods such as ice cream, popsicles and jello are soothing to a sore throat. Warm liquids such as soup may also be comforting. Running a cool mist humidifier while your child is sleeping will help keep the throat and nose moist and help prevent discomfort during the night.


"Scarlet Fever." National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases: Division of Bacterial Diseases 13 Apr 08. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 14 Jan 10.

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