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Understanding Scarlet Fever -- the Basics

What Is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever is one of those childhood diseases that has been tamed by antibiotics -- if recognized and treated.

The disease occurs mostly in children between the ages of 2 and 10 years. It's caused by infection with group A streptococcal bacteria -- the same bacteria that causes strep throat. Symptoms typically appear three days after exposure to another person with the illness, although this incubation period can be anywhere from one to seven days.

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Symptoms of scarlet fever typically include a fever over 101 degrees and a red, sore throat. Other symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, headache, and abdominal pain. A distinctive scarlet rash appears -- first on the neck and chest and then all over the body. The rash feels like sandpaper. In areas of skin folds -- the armpits and the creases at the elbows and the groin -- the rash has a bright red color. The tongue also becomes swollen and turns bright red. After two to seven days the rash usually disappears, but the tongue may remain swollen for several more days.

As the rash fades, there may be skin peeling around the tips of the fingers and toes and in the groin area.

CAUTION! - Seek Treatment

Scarlet fever should not be left to run its course. It can lead to ear infections, pneumonia, and serious complications such as kidney problems and rheumatic fever (affecting the joints, heart, and other organs).

What Causes Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever is a contagious infection that is caused by streptococcal bacteria. It is spread by contact with nasal or mouth fluids from an infected person.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Roy Benaroch, MD on March 30, 2013

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