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Scarlet Fever

Scarlet fever, also called scarlatina, is an infection that causes a blotchy, pink-red rash. It's most common in young children, but can affect people of any age.

Here you can find guidance on how to spot signs of infection to help prevent the spread of the disease, which most commonly occurs in children aged between 2 and 8.

The first symptoms of scarlet fever often include a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting.

After 12 to 48 hours a fine red rash develops which feels like sandpaper to touch.

The rash usually appears on the chest and stomach before rapidly spreading to other parts of the body. On darker skin the rash can be harder to spot, although the skin will still feel like sandpaper.

Other signs include:

  • fever of over 38.3 degrees Celsius or higher is common 
  • white coating of the tongue, which peels to leave the tongue looking red and swollen 
  • swollen glands in the neck 
  • feeling tired and generally unwell 
  • flushed red face but pale around the mouth 
  • peeling skin on the fingertips, toes and groin area as the rash fades

Good hygiene is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of the infection.

It is often transported by coughs and sneezes onto hands, then transferred by direct physical contact onto toys, table tops, taps and handles. The disease can then be picked up by others touching those items.

To protect against infection parents and carers should:

  • make sure children wash their hands regularly 
  • not allow children to share cutlery, cups or beakers
  • ensure their children are kept away from school if unwell with scarlet fever symptoms 
  • dispose of used tissues into a bin or if they use handkerchiefs ensure these are washed frequently

Parents who think their child has scarlet fever should:

  • see their GP as soon as possible 
  • make sure their child takes the full course of any antibiotics prescribed by the GP 
  • keep their child at home, away from nursery or school for at least 24 hours after starting the antibiotic treatment if the illness is confirmed

Parents can also get free advice about scarlet fever from the NHS 111 telephone healthcare service or find more information from NHS Choices.