What Are the Tests and Treatments for Scarlet Fever?

If your child has a bright, bumpy rash, her doctor might suspect scarlet fever, or scarlatina, as it’s also known. It’s an infection that can easily be spread from person to person. It's caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat and, although anyone can get it, it’s most common in kids ages 5 to 15.

Tests

Call your doctor if your child has a sore throat, especially if she also has a rash or a fever. Your doctor will run the following tests to check for scarlet fever:

  • Physical exam. The doctor will look at your child's throat, tongue, and tonsils. She'll check for things like swollen glands and white or yellow specks in the mouth and throat. She'll also look for other symptoms like chills, fever, and body ache. She’ll ask whether your child has nausea, vomiting, or no appetite.
  • Rapid strep test. This may immediately test positive for the bacteria that causes scarlet fever and strep. If it's negative, the swab can be sent out for a throat culture – a more in-depth test to see if the bacteria is actually present.
  • Throat swab. If your doctor thinks strep throat is to blame, she might swab your child's throat and tonsils. The swab collects material that might contain bacteria.

It's important to test for strep because other illnesses can cause the same symptoms. They may have different treatments.

Treatments

Typically, the treatment for scarlet fever is the same as that for strep throat. Your doctor will give your child an antibiotic. It's important that she finish it all. She shouldn't go back to school or day care until she's taken the medicine for at least 24 hours and no longer has a fever. Be sure to let day care providers and classmates know that they may have been exposed.

Your doctor may suggest other treatments that might help:

  • Gargle with warm, salty water to help with mouth and throat pain.
  • Take acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain or fever. But this is for adults -- never give aspirin to children or teens.
  • Drink more fluids. It’ll help keep your throat or your child's throat moist and stop dehydration.
  • Add moisture to the air in your home. A cool mist humidifier may help ease a sore throat.
  • If your child is 4 years or older, soothing drops can help with throat pain. Soups and ice pops may also help.
  • If the rash itches, talk to your doctor about an anti-itch medicine. Trim your child's nails so she won't hurt her skin by scratching.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on April 02, 2019

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: "Scarlet Fever: A Group A Streptococcal Infection."

HealthyChildren.org: "Scarlet Fever."

Mayo Clinic: "Scarlet Fever Treatments and Drugs," "Scarlet Fever Lifestyle and Home Remedies."

KidsHealth: "Scarlet Fever."

Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "Scarlet Fever."

Boston Children's Hospital: "Treatments for Scarlet Fever in Children."

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