Ask a Nurse - Scarlet Fever
by Cathy Parkes February 19, 2023 Updated: August 09, 2023 3 min read
- 0:00 What to expect in this episode of Ask A Nurse
- 0:16 What is scarlet fever?
- 0:46 How do you get scarlet fever?
- 1:18 What are the symptoms of scarlet fever?
- 2:05 How is scarlet fever diagnosed?
- 2:24 How is scarlet fever treated?
- 2:59 How can I prevent getting or spreading scarlet fever?
Hi. I'm Cathy with Level Up RN. In this episode of Ask a Nurse, by request, I will be answering your questions about scarlet fever, such as what causes scarlet fever, what are the symptoms of scarlet fever, and how is scarlet fever treated.
Scarlet fever or scarlatina, as it's sometimes called, is a bacterial infection that results in a sore throat and a rash. It's caused by group A streptococcus bacteria, which is the same bacteria that causes strep throat. This bacteria produces a toxin, which is sort of like a poison that results in a bright red rash, and the red or scarlet color of this rash is how this disorder got its name. Scarlet fever is a very contagious illness. It is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15 because it's easily spread in daycares as well as school settings. So this illness is spread through respiratory droplets, so through talking, sneezing, and coughing. It can also be transmitted through contact with contaminated objects or contact with sores caused by group A streptococcus bacteria, such as impetigo.
Symptoms of scarlet fever include a fever as well as chills, a very sore throat that will appear red. The tongue may also appear red and bumpy, and a white coating may be present early in the illness. We will have a red rash on the body that will have a sandpaper feel, and the skin in the creases of the armpits or the elbows or the groin may appear brighter red in color. This rash typically lasts about 7 days and as the rash is fading, you may notice peeling skin on the fingertips, toes, and on the groin area. And then we may also have flushing of the cheeks with a pale area around the mouth.
Scarlet fever can be diagnosed by swabbing the throat and running a rapid strep test as well as obtaining a throat culture. So a throat culture will take several days to get the results, but this test can sometimes find infections that the rapid strep test can miss. Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics such as penicillin and amoxicillin. Alternative antibiotics can be used in individuals who have an allergy to penicillin. It's imperative that you take the antibiotics exactly as prescribed for the full length of time even if you start feeling better in the middle of treatment. Untreated or partially treated scarlet fever can result in serious complications, such as damage to the heart, damage to the kidneys, or meningitis, just to name a few examples.
According to the CDC, individuals with scarlet fever should stay home from school or daycare until they no longer have a fever and have been taking antibiotics for at least 12 hours, but definitely follow the guidance of your provider. In order to prevent getting or spreading scarlet fever, be sure to wash your hands frequently when you cough or sneeze. Be sure to do that into your arm or elbow or into a tissue and never into your hands.
All right, that is it for this episode of Ask a Nurse. If you have a health-related topic or question you would like me to cover in a future episode, then definitely leave that in the comments. Stay informed and stay well.
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