What Is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever symptoms

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  • The early warning signs of scarlet fever, which include fever and sore throat, typically occur one to four days after the initial Streptococcus infection
  • Keep in mind that scarlet fever may still be contagious even after its symptoms have subsided, so it’s best to avoid close physical contact with uninfected individuals

Also known as scarlatina, scarlet fever is an infection caused by group A beta-hemolytic Streptococcus bacteria, which is also referred to as group A strep or Streptococcus pyogenes. Children ages 5 to 15 years old are usually more susceptible to scarlet fever, although it may affect adults as well.1 It’s also found to be more prevalent during winter and spring.2

According to Medscape, 10 percent of the population contracts streptococcal pharyngitis (commonly known as strep throat), and as many as 10 percent of that number may also develop scarlet fever,3 which is why strep throat is considered a precursor to this condition, especially in the past.4 Aside from strep throat, a Streptococcal infection on other parts of the body may also put you at risk of scarlet fever, although cases like this are rare.5

Epidemics of scarlet fever were endemic in both Europe and North America for about 60 years in the 1880s, and then began to decline in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Then, suddenly, a resurgence in the disease in the 1980s left researchers scratching their heads. Unsure why the prevalence of scarlet fever first decreased, then increased, while strep throat remained a common illness, researchers began seeking answers for the return of scarlet fever.6

While studies are ongoing, researchers speculate that the return of the disease — 100,000 recorded cases in mainland China between 2011 and 2012 alone, and more than 15,000 since 2013 in England — has to do with the emergence of antimicrobial and antibiotic resistance to the drugs used to treat strep throat and scarlet fever. Researchers also suspect that evolving virulence and the attenuation of the S. pyogenes bacteria are also contributors.

Some scientists also believe that declining nutrition status, particularly of the gut microbiomes of children today, may be adding to the problem, as it’s well-known that it’s difficult to fight infection if you are lacking in healthy micronutrients.7,8,9,10

A Closer Look at the Progression of Scarlet Fever

An episode of scarlet fever usually lasts for about a week.11 Its incubation period (the period between the exposure to the bacteria and the development of illness) may be as short as 12 hours or as long as seven days.12

The early warning signs of scarlet fever, which include fever and sore throat, typically occur one to four days after the initial Streptococcus infection. After 12 to 48 hours of developing these first symptoms, scarlet-colored rashes will start to appear on your chest and/or stomach before spreading onto other parts of your body — this stage usually lasts from two to seven days. Other symptoms can include chills, fever, muscle aches and abdominal pain.13,14

Once the hallmark symptoms have subsided, the skin where the rashes were most prominent will start to peel. This peeling commonly occurs around the fingertips, toes and groin area,15 and may last up to six weeks.16

When Is Scarlet Fever Contagious

It’s important to note that the rashes caused by scarlet fever are not infectious. The contagious aspect of this illness is the Streptococcus infection.17

Since the symptoms of scarlet fever may take a few days to occur, it can be hard to determine if you’ve been infected with the Streptococcus bacteria or not. You may unknowingly carry and pass on the infection before developing any symptoms of illness.18 Of course, scarlet fever is also considered infectious during its acute phase, when symptoms like rashes, fever and sore throat are present.19

Since the bacteria that cause scarlet fever can easily spread through sneezing, coughing, physical contact and sharing of personal items, infected children should be kept away from nurseries or schools, while infected adults should stay off work for the meantime.20 Keep in mind that scarlet fever may still be contagious even after its symptoms have subsided, so it’s best to avoid close physical contact with uninfected individuals until you’ve made sure that your illness has run its course.21

The Risks of Scarlet Fever During Pregnancy

Since pregnant women are susceptible to bacterial infections like scarlet fever during the early days of pregnancy, one of the most common questions regarding this illness is: “Is it dangerous to get scarlet fever while pregnant?”

There is no evidence to suggest that scarlet fever will cause a serious threat to your unborn baby. However, it’s important to note that high fever, which occurs as a symptom of this bacterial infection, is associated with birth defects. You may also risk passing the infection to your newborn baby if you have scarlet fever while giving birth.

With that said, make sure that you take preventive measures to avoid this bacterial infection while you’re pregnant. Steer clear from people who are infected with streptococcal infections, and practice good hygiene by washing your hands regularly. Nutrition is also important, as a healthy body is important to fighting infection. If you do experience symptoms of scarlet fever, seek medical attention immediately to determine the best treatment options for you and your baby.22

MORE ABOUT SCARLET FEVER

Scarlet Fever: Introduction

What Is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet Fever Symptoms

Scarlet Fever Causes

Scarlet Fever Treatment

Scarlet Fever Prevention

Scarlet Fever Diet

Scarlet Fever FAQ


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