Scarlet fever or scarlatina: cause, symptoms and treatment

Scarlet fever or scarlatina is a contagious infectious disease caused by streptococci and is accompanied by a red rash on the skin and pain in the throat. The disease used to be common in children, but now it is almost non-existent in developed countries. What are the symptoms and how can scarlet fever be treated? Can you go to school or work if you have scarlet fever? What is a raspberry or strawberry tongue?

Article content

  • Scarlet fever or scarlatina
  • Cause of scarlet fever
  • Symptoms of scarlet fever
  • Complications scarlet fever
  • Progression of scarlet fever
  • Mild forms of scarlet fever
  • Scarlet fever treatment (GP and what you can do yourself)
  • School and work


Scarlet fever or scarlatina

Scarlet fever or scarlatina is a contagious infectious disease caused by bacteria (streptococci). It can occur after an inflammation of the tonsil (tonsillitus), but the streptococcal infection of the throat can also go almost unnoticed. The infection is spread from person to person, mainly through coughing. Scarlet fever mainly occurs in children between the ages of three and twelve, but adults can also get it. It used to be a childhood disease that occurred regularly, but nowadays scarlet fever is no longer common due to the advent of antibiotics.

Cause of scarlet fever

The infectious disease is caused by bacteria: streptococci.

Symptoms of scarlet fever

After an incubation period of a few days, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Sore throat with swollen glands in the neck;
  • Pain in the head;
  • An increased body temperature (39 -40 degrees Celsius) and chills;
  • Highly red cheeks and around the mouth the skin is noticeably pale;
  • Sometimes a person vomits;
  • Sometimes diarrhea;
  • Swollen spots that are red in color, these quickly spread over the neck, torso, groin and armpits;
  • You will first see a white deposit on the tongue, which will disappear within a few days, then the tongue will remain bright red and swollen for a while. This is also called a strawberry or raspberry tongue ;
  • When the fever subsides, after about three days, the red spots will peel, especially on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet;
  • Hair loss may occur (this is temporary).


Complications scarlet fever

The following complications can occur, but it happens rarely:

  • Pneumonia;
  • Inflammation of the middle ear;
  • Acute rheumatism;
  • Kidney inflammation (symptoms: lethargy, the face will swell (fluid) and the urine will differ slightly in color due to blood.


Progression of scarlet fever

After about five days, the rash disappears and the body temperature drops again. It then takes another four to five days before the child (or adult) gets better again.

Mild forms of scarlet fever

There are also lighter forms of scarlet fever. The rash then only appears on areas of the skin where pressure or heat is present (elbow, inner thighs). This can sometimes make it difficult to diagnose scarlet fever.

Scarlet fever treatment (GP and what you can do yourself)

Scarlet fever can be treated with antibiotics. If the person is treated with antibiotics, he or she is no longer contagious after two days. If a child is very ill, or you do not trust him, contact the doctor immediately. Depending on the severity, he or she will decide whether or not to prescribe antibiotics.
What you can do yourself if a child has scarlet fever is to ensure that the child gets enough rest and fluids. If a child is feeling bad and has a lot of sore throat, you can give paracetamol.

School and work

  • If a child with scarlet fever feels well, he or she can simply go to a school or daycare center. Someone with scarlet fever is already contagious before the spots appear. Keeping it at home does not help prevent the spread of scarlet fever. Do inform the management or teacher, so that other parents can be informed in consultation with the GGD, so that they are alert to symptoms of scarlet fever in their child. If there are several proven cases of scarlet fever in a group, the GGD can conduct research, provide information and possibly advise additional measures to limit the outbreak of scarlet fever. For example, the GGD may advise that children with scarlet fever should only return to school after treatment with antibiotics.
  • An adult who has scarlet fever and feels well can work as normal, but inform the employer . If you work in food preparation or healthcare, things are different. First consult with the employer, who can consult with the GGD.
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