Scarlet fever is a streptococcal infection (streptococci are a type of bacteria) that enters the organism via the tonsils. As they enter the body, bacteriae multiply and produce a poison – toxin – which circulates in the blood. After the incubation, which lasts from 1 to 7 days, the amount of toxin in body is sufficient to cause the symptoms. Some of them resemble symptoms of tonsillitis – see tonsillitis in children.
On the first day the child gets a high temperature (up to 40 °C), his throat is painful and red, and the tongue “covered”. In some cases the tonsils may be covered with white deposits, and sometimes the patient vomits.
On the second day, a light-colored rash appears on the child’s face that does not affect the area around the mouth; by the third day, the rash (which can be itchy) will spread on the body, arms and legs. Meanwhile, the temperature drops, the tongue becomes light-red and the surface resembles a strawberry. By the sixth day the rash disappears, the skin and tongue starts to peel, and the places where the skin is peeling is red and wounded. Peeling can last for another 14 days.
Today, scarlet fever is a rare disease and is at least ten times less common than, for example, measles or mumps. It almost never affects the adults. Since it is less common, scarlet fever is also less dangerous. The major dangerous complications, both of which are very rare and occur 2 to 3 weeks after the rash, are rheumatic fever (see rheumatic fever in children) and kidney inflammation (read more in the article titled glomerulonephritis).
What to do?
If you think your that child has a scarlet fever, contact your doctor. A doctor will prescribe an antibiotic that works against streptococci. Make sure that your child takes the medicine regularly.