Scarlet fever occurs due to a group A Streptococcus infection. Also known as scarlatina, its symptoms include a sore throat, fever, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, and a characteristic rash. The bacteria cause a red ‘scarlet’ rash and a feeling of sandpaper on the tongue. Being passed by people coughing or sneezing, it is mostly spread through children between five and fifteen years of age, as they are the most prone to infection. By touching an object that has the bacteria and then touching your mouth or nose, you can also catch the infection, and a diagnosis is typically confirmed by culturing the throat.
Although it’s a mild illness that passes quickly, preventive measures should be always taken, as there is no vaccine to cure it. It usually gets treated with antibiotics, but if neglected, long-term complications can occur, in the form of kidney disease, rheumatic heart disease, and arthritis.
Signs of infestation
The most common signs of infestation with scarlet fever are the following:
- Sore throat
- Bright red tongue with a “strawberry” appearance
- Small, red spots on the soft palate
- Red rash that feels like sandpaper
- Bright red skin in underarm, elbow and groin creases
- A whitish coating on the tongue or back of the throat
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain
- Swollen glands
- Body aches
The rash usually appears 12-72 hours after the fever starts, and initially appears on the chest, armpits and behind the ears. The cheeks turn red and the area around the mouth turns pale, and 3-4 days after onset, the rash begins to dry and start peeling off. It might resemble a bad sunburn at the beginning, but as it spreads on the body, the tiny bumps are more visible and they start itching. In the skin folds, the rash runs together and forms red streaks known as Pastia’s lines, which can persist longer after the rash is gone.
If the rash is combined with a sore throat, swollen neck glands and a fever above 38 °C (100.4 °F), the scarlet fever diagnosis is clear. In the early days of the infection, the tongue can have a whitish or yellowish coating, and so can the tonsils and back of the throat.
The infection can last up to a few weeks until the tonsils and swollen glands return to normal, but the fever usually subsides in 3-5 days, and the rash starts fading and begin to peel in around 6 days after it appeared. Normally, with a 10 day antibiotics treatment, the main signs of infection subside and the person starts feeling better.
Treatments to get rid of Scarlet fever
Although a mild illness, if left untreated, scarlet fever can cause worse conditions for the affected person. From a rash and a small fever, it can develop into rheumatic fever, which later leads to inflammation of the heart, joints, and nervous system. Other complications come in the form of kidney disease, ear and skin infections, abscesses in the throat, pneumonia, arthritis. Getting in infection treated as soon as possible is very important, especially as it mainly affects small children, which can have a less developed immune system to protect them.
The first step in getting scarlet fever treated is by getting a confirmed diagnosis from a doctor. After a physical exam checking the throat, tonsils, and tongue, a doctor can analyse and confirm the presence of the strep bacteria that causes the scarlet fever. An appropriate treatment can then be prescribed. It normally contains antibiotics, as the fever is caused by a bacterial infection, so it responds well to such a treatment. The most common antibiotics used to cure the infection and stop the fever and rash from developing further are Amoxicillin, Augmentin, Biaxin, which is an alternative for patients allergic to Penicillin, found in the previous two types of antibiotics. Be advised that there are side effects to antibiotics, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, bloating and indigestion, stomach pain and loss of appetite. Make sure you let your doctor know if you usually have these problems when taking antibiotics as he can also prescribe a probiotic. These are often called “good” or “helpful” bacteria because they help keep your digestive system healthy.
After a few days of antibiotic treatment, you should already be able to see positive results. The sore throat and fever should dissipate, and you should start feeling more energetic, with a lot more appetite than before. The rash might take longer to disappear than the other scarlet fever symptoms, but as it heals, the affected skin will peel off. Getting plenty of rest and hydrating the body is also important during the treatment. Due to the battle between your immune system, medicine and infection, you will be more tired than usual, so sleep deprivation is not recommended. Try to rest your body as much as possible as this will help in the healing process. Water also helps when it comes to reducing the fever and lowering the pain felt in the body. Due to possible vomiting and the sore throat that causes frequent swallowing, the body will be more dehydrated than usually, so you need to compensate this by drinking frequent sips of water throughout the day. Elderflower tea is also good as helps fighting the fever and sore throat sensation. Humidify the air to further stop throat irritation from dry air as well.
What you eat during this period is also important. Because scarlet fever often causes nausea and vomiting, it is better to eat smaller amount of soft food, rather than larger meals, as it will be easier to keep them down. Softer foods also help with the sore throat, as swallowing will be problematic in the first few days. The best foods for this period are soups and broths, puddings, rice and a lot of juices for vitamins.
By the age of 10 years, 80% of children have acquired protective antibodies against streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxins, preventing development of scarlet fever, but until then, as this infestation affects them the most, they need to be strictly observed and quickly treated, so that the infection does not lead to further complications. Monitor children’s temperatures closely, as high fever in children can lead to febrile seizures. If the fever persists, ask your doctor to prescribe something to help with this. You can also clothe your child in loose fitting items, so that they do not retain body heat. Kids can easily pass the streptococcus bacteria to one another, so it’s important that children don’t share food, drinks or toys with an infected child until he’s been fever-free for at least 24 hours.
Depending on the severity of the illness, you can also use some natural remedies that can help calm down or even treat some of the symptoms.
Gargling with warm salt water is often used to relieve trot pain and inflammation, as it washes away the toxins in the area. Pink Himalayan salt is best for this practice, as it contains potassium, magnesium and calcium, which make it more difficult for the infection causing bacteria to survive.
Apple cider vinegar can also be used for gargling, in an attempt to alleviate the sore throat. Mixing a spoon of apple cider vinegar with a spoon of honey into a glass of warm water and sipping it repeatedly, several times a day, can help with the pain.
Rashes can be treated with ointments made out of tea tree oil. Diluting it and applying it on the rash can have a calming effect.
Coconut oil is used to treat inflammations, and to fight bacteria, fungi and viruses, through its boost to the immune system. It can be applied on rashes as it has a soothing effect, calming the irritations. You can also use in combination with the tea tree oil mentioned above.
Vitamin C can boost immunity, which is what is needed when fighting scarlet fever. Increase your intake of Vitamin C by eating more oranges, red bell peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and by drinking natural juices.
Lemon essential oil can be used to alleviate sore throat. By using two drops of lemon oil in a glass of water and taking small sips, you will speed the healing and calm the sensation in your throat. Use is with cool water, as the hot water will affect its healing powers.
Honey and propolis are also an excellent natural treatment against scarlet fever. Besides helping with the sore throat by eating honey, a propolis intake can also have an antibacterial effect in fighting the infection.
Aloe Vera has antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that can help in healing and repairing the damaged skin area. Applying its gel onto the sensitive rashes can help reduce the discomfort and soothe the itchiness.
Avoid spreading Scarlet fever
In order to avoid spreading the infection, isolation is best, as scarlet fever is quite infectious. It can easily spread to the rest of your family, or if you are in an environment full of children, like a kindergarten or school, staying at home is best, as soon as you observe the signs of infestation. As the infection usually spreads through direct contact, coughing, or contact with body fluids, it is best to keep a high level of sanitation around the house and in any other place you spend a lot of time in.
The best way of avoiding spreading the infection is by covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, disposing of any used tissues immediately and regularly washing your hands before and after touching infected tissues or material. If you are taking care of an infected person, make sure you avoid contact with any oral or nasal secretions, and wash your hand before touching your nose or mouth. Avoid sharing cutlery, cups towels, baths, clothes or bedding with an infected person.
Toys and surfaces should be washed and disinfected daily. In order to better avoid the spread of the bacteria, you can disinfect surfaces with appropriate solutions. Anything touched by that person, particularly eating utensils or any object that could be contaminated by mucous membranes from the infected individual, should be cleaned with a disinfectant after use. Using Purell hand sanitiser or disinfectants that you can mix with warm water and clean surfaces are the best way of avoiding the further spread of the bacteria. Such disinfectants can be used in your home, in schools, hospitals, public institutions, veterinary clinics, hotels, gyms, locker rooms and in any other public place where hygiene is important. For more ways in which you can ‘Prevent infestation with Scarlet Fever’, check our related article.