Scarlet fever (sometimes called scarlatina) is an infectious disease caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus (GAS). The same bacteria can also cause impetigo.
Scarlet fever is highly contagious and is spread by close contact with someone carrying the bacteria. It is spread by inhaling contaminated airborne droplets of an infected person when they cough or sneeze. Droplets from the mouth or nose may also contaminate hands, plates, drinking glasses and utensils they have used, particularly if they then touch their nose or mouth. It takes around 2 to 5 days to develop symptoms after exposure to these bacteria.
The first symptoms of scarlet fever often include:
- a sore throat
- nausea and vomiting
A fever over 38.3ᵒ C (101ᵒ F) or higher is common and flushed cheeks which may appear more ‘sunburnt’ on darker skin. A white coating appears on the tongue which peels after a few days leaving the tongue red and swollen, known as ‘strawberry tongue’. The scarlet fever rash can be confused with measles.
If you think you or your child has scarlet fever, you should consult your GP or contact NHS 111.
Those suffering from scarlet fever should not return to school or work until 24 hours after commencing appropriate antibiotic treatment. If no antibiotics have been administered, the individual will be infectious for 2 to 3 weeks and should be excluded for this period.
To protect yourself from getting the illness from an infected person, you should wash your hands often, not share eating utensils with an infected person and wash, or dispose of, handkerchiefs and tissues contaminated by an infected person.
For more information, see NHS - Scarlet Fever