Scarlet Fever. That diagnosis sounds scarier than it truly is.
It’s essentially Strep Throat with a telltale red, sandpaper quality type body rash.
My son is currently being treated for Scarlet Fever.
This is how it all started:
Chills began seemingly out of nowhere. He was at the baseball field, practicing with some friends when he started shivering. He kind of looked out of it to me but I thought he was just hungry. BTW, why is it always something else in our minds when our kids start acting like they’re sick? Wishful thinking?
Anyway, as time progressed, I could tell he wasn’t just hungry. His eyes started to get that glazed over appearance and he told me his head hurt.
We left practice early. On the way home he started to fall asleep. That’s really when I knew something was amiss. This boy NEVER falls asleep that easily and in the middle of the day!
Back home, he rested on the couch. I kissed him on the forehead to check for fever. Don’t we all do this? Yup, fever.
I resisted the temptation to reach for the ibuprofen or acetaminophen and let him rest. About an hour later, he was really burning up and complaining of a headache. He said he couldn’t move. Poor thing. I gave him some ibuprofen and plenty of water.
The fever, chills, and headache went on throughout the night. At this point, I was highly suspicious of the flu.
He woke up looking pretty good, no fever. The ibuprofen still on board from a few hours earlier. Lock clockwork, around the 6 hour mark after ibuprofen…chills, fever, headache, lethargy…then I noticed something on his chest and neck…a faint red rash that started to have a bumpy looking quality to it.
I grabbed my light and asked him to open his mouth. I wanted to see his throat even though he never complained of a sore throat. That red (scarlet) rash is a telltale sign of Scarlet Fever. Sure enough, the back of his throat was intensely red with those dark red spots on the roof his mouth and near the back of his throat.
That’s when I knew he had Scarlet Fever.
He had a throat swab done to confirm the strep diagnosis. We continued to make sure he was well hydrated and comfortable.
The rash is in full swing with red face, chest, back, arms, and legs. It has that bumpy appearance to it and it’s very itchy to him. The throat culture confirms our suspicions, positive for Group A Strep. He started antibiotics.
The headache and fever have subsided. Most notable now is the itchy rash.
So, this is pretty classic for Scarlet Fever, aside from the absence of significant throat pain. His main discomforts were the chills, fever, and headache. Other common symptoms are abdominal pain, nausea, and a decreased appetite.
The rash is expected to linger for about 5-7 days, after which, there’s a high possibility it could peel in some areas. 24 hours after the start of antibiotics, children are no longer contagious for spreading the strep bacteria. This is where we’re at now.
It’s also important to note that not all children who come down with strep throat will break out in this rash and the rash itself is not contagious.
Even though your child will start to feel better by day 3-4 of their illness (strep throat and scarlet fever), it’s extremely important to complete the full 10 day course of antibiotics to prevent serious complications such as rheumatic fever (heart condition) or post strep glomerulonephritis (damage to the kidneys).
The bottom line is a child can get strep throat (high fever, chills, headache, intensely sore throat) or scarlet fever (strep throat plus diffuse red/bumpy rash) that are both a result of Group A Strep. They are contagious until 24 hours after the start of antibiotics through sharing of eating/drinking utensils, coughing, and sneezing. Keeping your child well hydrated and comfortable are paramount in home care. The rash of scarlet fever will linger, be itchy, and may peel.
Calm the itchy rash with a tepid Aveeno Oatmeal bath followed with a hypoallergenic body cream. Some children may need an oral antihistamine such as Claritin or Benadryl to help with the itch.
And of course, make sure you child completes the full 10 day course of antibiotics to prevent serious complications. This is a great time to review ways to make that medicine go down easier! My son’s method of choice this time around? A skittle chaser.
Have you or your child had scarlet fever? What questions do you have about it?