Scarlet fever is caused by a group A bacteria. Typically, symptoms of scarlet fever are: sore throat, fever, swollen lymph nodes, and a characteristic bright red rash. If you suspect that you (or someone else has) scarlet fever, see your doctor immediately. To prevent possible long-term complications, prompt diagnosis and antibiotic treatment are required.
Method 1 of 3: Recognizing the symptoms and signs of scarlet fever
Step 1. Recognize the symptoms and signs of streptococcal infection
Scarlet fever is caused by group A streptococcus, the same bacteria that causes sore throat. In the early stages of the disease, there is usually a fever and sore throat, as well as pain and enlargement of the glands (lymph nodes) in the neck. This set of symptoms may or may not be accompanied by stomach pain, vomiting, and / or chills.
- If you get group A streptococcus, your tonsils will become covered with a white mass (called "exudate"), which can be seen if you open your mouth very wide and look in the mirror.
- Sore throat due to group A streptococcus is usually not accompanied by a cough, making it distinguishable from other infections.
Step 2. Beware of the characteristic bright red rash
In addition to a sore throat, a skin infection is a hallmark of scarlet fever. A group A strep rash is usually red and rough to the touch, like sandpaper. The rash may be the first symptom or appear within seven days of the peak of other symptoms and signs.
- The rash usually affects the neck, armpits, and groin area.
- The rash can then spread to other areas of the body.
- The rash is often accompanied by a very red or so-called "crimson tongue", facial flushing and red lines in various folds of the skin, including the groin area, armpits, under the knees and on the back of the elbow.
Step 3. Some people are at increased risk of contracting scarlet fever
Scarlet fever most often affects children and adolescents aged 5 to 15 years. Therefore, if your child develops these symptoms, you should seek immediate medical attention. It should be remembered that group A streptococcal infections and scarlet fever can occur in people of any age.
Method 2 of 3: Diagnosing scarlet fever
Step 1. See your doctor
If you have severe sore throat without coughing and white exudate on your tonsils, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. A similar manifestation of a sore throat is most likely caused by group A streptococcal bacteria. The doctor will conduct a diagnostic examination and provide the necessary treatment.
Step 2. Take a throat swab
If your doctor decides that your sore throat is caused by group A streptococcus, they will take a throat swab right in their office. This procedure will not take more than a couple of minutes. A sample is taken from the back of the throat and then sent to a laboratory where it will be tested for streptococcal bacteria. If the test is positive, you will be prescribed antibiotic treatment.
Step 3. See your doctor immediately if you develop a characteristic rash like scarlet fever
Your doctor will do a physical exam to evaluate the rash and possible signs of scarlet fever in more detail. If the doctor finds enough symptoms and signs, he or she will prescribe immediate antibiotic treatment.
Method 3 of 3: Treating scarlet fever
Step 1. Take over-the-counter pain relievers
To relieve sore throat and fever, you should take acetaminophen (Tylenol), available over the counter at any local pharmacy. Typically, the dosage is 3000 mg for 24 hours. Follow the dosage directions as indicated in the instructions and note the changes (dosage reduction) for children.
It's also worth trying another over-the-counter pain reliever called ibuprofen (Advil). Follow the dosage directions that are written on the medicine bottle. Typically, it is 400 mg every six hours. This dosage is not intended for use in children
Step 2. Try throat lozenges
Buy hard candy to help soothe a sore throat. They can usually be found in grocery stores and pharmacies. Many lozenges have antimicrobial properties that help fight infection, as well as anesthetic (numbness) properties that relieve sore throat. Do not take more lozenges than indicated in the instructions.
Soothe sore throat with salt water gargles several times a day
Step 3. Drink plenty of fluids
Each time your body fights off an infection, the chances of dehydration increase. Therefore, the patient should drink at least 2 liters of water per day and even more if he is thirsty. Fever can also make dehydration worse, so it's important to drink plenty of fluids.
Step 4. Ask for a prescription for penicillin
Penicillin is usually given to treat streptococcal infections (the bacteria that causes scarlet fever). If a smear test confirms the presence of group A streptococcus or a characteristic bright red rash appears on your skin, the patient should receive a full course of antibiotic treatment. There are several reasons for this, among which the following can be distinguished:
- Antibiotics can help relieve symptoms faster and help your immune system fight off the infection.
- Antibiotic treatment will reduce the chance of transmission.
- Most importantly, even if you feel like you're feeling better, completing the full course of treatment will prevent the development of an antibiotic-resistant strain.
- In scarlet fever, the greatest risk is not the infection itself, but the risk of long-term complications.
Step 5. Become aware of the potential risk of developing long-term complications from scarlet fever
The main reason for antibiotic treatment is not to eliminate the infection itself, but to prevent serious complications that may arise in the future. Potential long-term complications from scarlet fever include:
- Kidney disease
- More serious skin infections
- Acute rheumatic fever (an inflammatory condition that can damage the heart valves, which in turn can cause heart failure)
- Ear infections
- Arthritis in the joints
- Throat abscess (serious throat infections that are very difficult to treat)