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Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever is a rash illness caused by bacteria called Group A Streptococcus (GAS).

This illness most often occurs with GAS pharyngitis (strep throat). Although it can occur in persons of any age, scarlet fever is most frequent among elementary school-aged children (about 6 - 12 years old).

Symptoms usually start two to five days after exposure and include:

  • Fine, bumpy red rash (sandpaper-like), most often on the neck, chest, elbows and on inner surfaces of the thighs
  • High fever
  • Sore throat
  • Red tongue
  • Tender and swollen neck glands
  • Sometimes nausea and vomiting

Scarlet fever is usually spread from person to person by direct contact.

GAS bacteria are found in the nose and/or throat of persons with strep throat, as well as other persons who are not ill. The bacteria can be spread to the next person through the air with sneezing or coughing, or by hand-to-hand contact.

People with scarlet fever can spread the disease to others until they have been on antibiotic treatment for at least 24 hours.

Treatment of scarlet fever is important to prevent serious complications.

Persons with scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics. Treatment for the full time prescribed by the doctor (usually 10 days) is important to prevent serious complications such as rheumatic fever and kidney disease. An infected child or adult should be excluded from child care or school until he or she has received at least 24 hours of appropriate antibiotic treatment and no longer has a fever.

Scarlet fever and strep throat can be prevented:

  • Cover the mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash hands after wiping or blowing nose, coughing and sneezing.
  • Wash hands before preparing food, or before caring for babies or young children.
  • See your doctor if you or your child have symptoms of scarlet fever.
  • Do not send your children to school when they are ill.

Click here to view the Department of Health & Mental Hygiene's Scarlet Fever Fact Sheet (PDF)