A childhood disease thought to be conquered in the U.S. is making a come-back here and abroad. Scarlet fever has resurfaced in the United Kingdom and parts of Asia.
The disease is spread by infected kids to others through sneezing and coughing. Scarlet fever occurs most commonly in children up to 15 years old.
Never ignore the symptoms of scarlet fever. Without treatment, the disease can turn into the inflammatory disease rheumatic fever that can cause permanent cardiovascular damage, including damaged heart valves and heart failure.
Kids with strep throat or strep skin infections may come down with scarlet fever or scarlatina. The strep (full name streptococcus) bacteria produce a poisonous toxin that causes a bright red, bumpy rash on the skin. The rash usually starts on the neck and face, often leaving a clear area around the mouth. From there the red inflammation spreads to the chest and back, and then on to cover most of the rest of the body – hence the name scarlet fever.
Many cases resemble a bad sunburn tiny bumps that may feel rough and raw to the touch (like sandpaper) that can be itchy. The rash forms red streaks in body creases, particularly around the underarms, elbows, and groin areas.
A red, sore throat, swollen glands in the neck, and a fever above 101°F are all signs of scarlet fever. The tonsils and back of the throat may be covered with a whitish coating or appear red, swollen, and dotted with whitish or yellowish specks of pus.
Early in the infection, the tongue may have a whitish or yellowish coating. A child with scarlet fever may also experience chills, body aches, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite.
Isolate a sick child’s personal items – toothbrush, drinking glasses, and eating utensils – from those of other family members. Be sure to wash these items well after each use in hot soapy water. Wash your own hands in warm soapy water frequently when you are taking care of a child infected with strep.
These symptoms generally begin to fade after about six days. The skin affected by the rash peels off and may continue to slough off for several weeks during healing.
Parents who spot such a scarlet rash on their child are advised to call the family pediatrician for a confirmed diagnosis, especially when accompanied by a fever, sore throat or swollen glands. If another family member or a child at your child’s daycare facility or school had a recent strep infection, your kid is at a higher risk of becoming infected.
Your physician will probably order a rapid strep test or collect a throat culture (a painless throat swab) to check for the presence of strep bacteria.
The standard treatment for scarlet fever is a 10-day course of antibiotics that wipes out the infection. Be sure that your child takes all the recommended doses to avoid a relapse and toughening of any surviving invading bacteria.
Kids with severe strep throat or scarlet fever are likely to find eating painful so serve soft foods or a liquid diet to reduce irritation while swallowing. Soothe the inflamed tissues with either warm teas such as raspberry and mint and nutritious soups or cool drinks, popsicles or slushies.
Children suffering from scarlet fever need to drink plenty of fluids. Over-the-counter acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever or throat pain may provide pain relief and reduced inflammation. These non-prescription medications are available on most pharmacy shelves.
Trim the fingernails on any child who has an irritating skin rash to reduce further damage from scratching. A non-prescription anti-itch preparation may help relieve the urge to scratch.
Treat the rash by dabbing on apple cider vinegar with a cotton ball. The natural liquid dries out the rash as its high level of acetic acid eases the itching. Choose organic vinegar because some non-organic types contain petroleum products that irritate the skin.
Placing a room humidifier in your child’s bedroom may help reduce coughing fits that further irritate a sore throat. Although a bit of lavender essential oil added to the humidifier can be soothing, strong scents such as eucalyptus are not recommended.
Recent outbreaks of scarlet fever have been reported in China, Vietnam, South Korea, and Hong Kong. Genetic testing revealed no clear link between the Asian outbreaks and the UK outbreaks but they may yet prove to have elements in common.
In the U.S., a student at an elementary school in Sacramento, California, was diagnosed with scarlet fever. On September 24, 2019, Stone Lake Elementary School in Elk Grove sent a letter home with the child’s classmates informing the parents of the diagnosis.