Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection that causes a sore throat, rash, and chills.
Scarlet fever once was dreaded by many people. The bacteria that cause scarlet fever are easy to spread, and in the 1800s there were epidemics. Children younger than 10 years of age were especially at risk of serious complications, such as rheumatic (roo-MAH-tik) fever or death. Scarlet fever was also a mysterious disease because it would infect only some members of a family and not others. A good example of scarlet fever's effect can be found in Louisa May Alcott's 1868 novel Little Women.
By the early 2000s scarlet fever was far less common and easier to treat with modern antibiotics * available to fight the streptococcal (strep-toe-KOK-al) bacteria that causes the infection.
Scarlet fever is caused by exposure to someone who is infected with streptococcal, or strep, bacteria. People with strep infection can spread it by sneezing or coughing. It can also be spread by sharing drinking glasses or eating utensils with people who are infected.
Scarlet fever also causes a fever with temperatures of more than 101°F (38°C). Glands around the jaw and neck swell and are painful. Other symptoms can include chills, nausea, and vomiting.
In rare cases, scarlet fever also can result from a skin infection known as impetigo * .
Without medical treatment, strep throat and scarlet fever can be serious. A doctor who suspects a strep infection uses a cotton swab to get some of the bacteria from the throat for laboratory testing to confirm that they are streptococcal bacteria. Treatment with antibiotics for 10 days usually kills the bacteria.
See also Impetigo • Rheumatic Fever • Sore Throat/Strep Throat • Streptococcal Infections
Alcott, Louisa May. Little Women, or, Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1868.
Sotoodian, Bahman. “Scarlet Fever.” Medscape, March 7, 2016. Available at: http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1053253-overview (accessed July 6, 2016).
MedlinePlus. “Scarlet Fever.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000974.htm (accessed July 6, 2016).
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1600 Clifton Rd., Atlanta, GA 30329-4027. Toll-free: 888-674-6854. Website: http://www.cdc.gov (accessed July 6, 2016).
World Health Organization. Avenue Appia 20, 1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland. Telephone: 41 22 791 21 11. Website: http://www.who.int/en/ (accessed July 6, 2016).
* antibiotics (an-tie-by-AH-tiks) are drugs that kill or slow the growth of bacteria.
* impetigo (im-pih-TEE-go) is a bacterial skin infection that usually occurs around the nose and mouth. It causes itching and fluid-filled blisters that often burst and form yellowish crusts.