A case of scarlet fever

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:

Day 1

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.

Day 2:

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.

Day 3:

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?

14 Responses to A case of scarlet fever
  1. Stefanie
    January 5, 2012 | 12:14 pm

    I hope your son is feeling better!
    Dylan had it a few years ago. We didn’t even know he was sick, until the telltale rash showed up. The pediatrician confirmed it with a strep test. Funny thing is, I was just talking to a friend on New Year’s Day about how he had gotten it right after her wedding. She told me her son had it at the same time, so they must have picked it up there!

    • Melissa
      January 8, 2012 | 11:46 pm

      Thank you Stefanie. He has made a full recovery and the itchy rash was probably the worst of it :)

  2. Cheryl @ Mommypants
    January 5, 2012 | 12:18 pm

    I got scarlet fever when I was four and I remember it vividly. My stomach felt itchy and I lifted my pajama top to find it covered with a red rash. My mother took me to the doctor and I threw up on him. ;)

    • Melissa
      January 8, 2012 | 11:46 pm

      Yes…well that would leave quite an impression on a child… :)

  3. Holly
    January 5, 2012 | 3:28 pm

    I had Scarlett fever in kindergarten an was sent home because I tried to take my clothes off because the rash was so itchy. It was very uncomfortable. I remember my mom couldn’t come near me due to a heart condition, that any kind of strep can make her extremly sick. Not a fun thing when your five.

    • Melissa
      January 8, 2012 | 11:48 pm

      My son was really bothered by that itchy rash for a couple of days too. That must have been really hard to have to stay away from your mother for fear you could make her really sick. Sorry.

  4. Sherri
    January 5, 2012 | 3:43 pm

    Oh, this brought back memories! I had a nasty case when I was a kid, maybe 1972? I had to get a series of shots (antibiotics, I guess) and my rear end was so sore! I remember the doctor giving me a whole pack of Juicy Fruit gum each time…so sorry your boy is sick and I hope he’s better soon.

  5. Melissa
    January 8, 2012 | 11:49 pm

    Big shot in the rear, pack of juicy fruit. Yeah that pretty much makes up for it…not! Guess it was better than nothing though :)

  6. Jaesa
    May 2, 2012 | 1:09 am

    My 2 yr old has scarlet fever rash, but no sore throat, dr thinks it was from infected insect bites. Her rash is so itchy. I’m giving her 2 oatmeal baths a day and benadryl and it is not helping. She’s on antibiotics, but it is not helping the rash. I don’t know what else to do to ease the itch, she is scratching in her sleep. Any advice?

  7. Morgan
    May 22, 2012 | 1:58 pm

    Hi, I’m 25 years old and I just got diagnosed with Scarlatina, which from what I’m reading is Scarlet Fever but a possibly more mild form. I’ve had strep throat a number of times since I was a child, most recently in 2008. I’ve had a sore throat for a couple of days, but put it down to post-nasal drip. When I woke up with a bumpy rash on my chest, I figured I would go see the doctor because I hadn’t had a rash since I was really young…even though I thought the two symptoms unrelated. Well, it’s strep throat or scarlatina.

    My question actually concerns the rash associated with scarlet fever.
    What I’m wondering is if my rash is going to get worse than it is right now if I start taking the anti-biotics? Right now it’s confined to my neck, upper back and all of my chest.

  8. Brenda
    July 31, 2012 | 6:29 am

    I am 54 and just got diagnosed with scarlet fever. Just like your son I had minor sore throat a week or so before the rash started. My question is about my bed sheets. I’m into the antibiotics now five days rash is almost gone. I’ve washed all bedding once during peeling, do I need to continue
    washing linens every day not to reinfect myself?

    • Melissa
      August 1, 2012 | 12:53 am

      The rash itself is not contagious. No need to keep washing your sheets! The bacteria is spread mainly via respiratory secretions and droplets from coughing, sneezing, kissing, etc. Glad you’re on the mend.

  9. Kris
    February 5, 2013 | 9:29 am

    My son (now 8) gets scarlet fever rash nearly every time he gets sick (not simple colds, but any kind of illness with fever). This has been happening for years. His pediatrician isn’t concerned, but this just doesn’t seem normal to me. Any thoughts?

  10. claire
    March 20, 2013 | 3:42 pm

    My poor little man has just been so ill with scarlet fever, the rash didn’t seem to bother him but the fever and sore throat where so bad, I’ve never seen him looking so ill before, and a day after he caught it I came down with a bad case of tonsillitis presumably the same bug yet not confirmed so it was really hard looking after him but we managed and he’s back running around like a mad man

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