Being confronted by scarlet fever for the first time can be daunting for any parent, particularly if you are unaware of the symptoms beforehand. Over the past year, incidents of scarlet fever have increased dramatically in England, reaching their highest level in 50 years. In 2016 alone, over 19,000 cases were reported. Doctors are not yet able to determine why cases of scarlet fever are on the rise, but are encouraging awareness of this highly contagious bacterial disease.
What is Scarlet Fever?
Scarlet fever is a bacterial disease, which is not usually considered to be dangerous. The disease is most common in children under 10, but it can occur in older children and adults. If you have already had scarlet fever at some point in your life, it is highly unlikely that you will get it again. Scarlet fever is treatable with a course of antibiotics, so if you suspect your child is displaying symptoms, they will need to be seen by a doctor who can prescribe the correct medication.
The infection is caused by a bacteria known as group A streptococas, a bacteria which is carried in the throat and which usually manifests as a sore throat. Other symptoms include a headache and fever, with a red skin rash which is rough to the touch. Your child may also have swollen glands and may vomit. These symptoms usually appear within one week of being infected with the bacteria.
Scarlet Fever – Examining the Rash
When you think of scarlet fever, you’ll probably think first of the red rash from which it acquired its name. Sore throats and headaches could be associated with any bacterial infection, but it is the rash that differentiates scarlet fever from other types of infection.
The rash will usually appear first on the chest or abdominal area before spreading across the body. It doesn’t usually spread to the face, but it can do on occasion. The scarlet fever rash is very red but may be brightest in the armpits or other body fold, such as around the elbows.
Scarlet fever rash is known for its rough texture and will be made up of bright red and pink dots or blotches, possibly joining into one larger area.
Parents are often encouraged to do a glass test on any rash with appears on their child. If you were to do this with a scarlet fever rash, it would turn white.
The tongue may also be affected, with the chance of developing a white coating. This peels away within a few days, but will leave the tongue red and swollen.
Although scarlet fever is no longer considered to be a serious or life-threatening illness, prompt treatment is still essential. Complications can arise from a prolonged fever. Other complications can include pneumonia, ear infections, or liver damage if the disease is not treated in good time.
What To Do In Cases Of Scarlet Fever
If you or your child are displaying symptoms of scarlet fever, you should contact your GP or call NHS Direct on 111 as soon as possible. If you need assistance outside of normal GP hours, NHS Direct can connect you to your local out of hours service. East Berkshire Primary Care Out of Hours Service can provide you with the same assistance as your GP, and are available during evenings, overnight, and weekends.
Your GP or out of hours doctor will want to see you or your child in order to inspect the rash: this is the best way to diagnose scarlet fever. They may choose to take a swab of saliva from the throat using a cotton bud to send away for testing.
If positive, the doctor will usually prescribe a course of antibiotics which will shorten the length of the infection and the time in which it is contagious. With antibiotic treatment, the bacteria are only contagious for 24 hours after treatment begins. Without it, the patient could be contagious for up to 2 weeks.
If you feel that antibiotic treatment is not improving the symptoms, or that there are other symptoms developing, you should contact your GP or NHS Direct for a follow-up appointment.