A Closer Look at Scarlatina Rash

Scarlatina rash, more commonly known as scarlet fever, used to be one of the most feared childhood illnesses up until the early 1900's and the discovery of penicillin. Although scarlet fever is still around today, common antibiotics and good fever management techniques are the best and most effective treatments for scarlet fever. Even with today's medical advances, it is still important to begin treatment of scarlatina rash as soon as the symptoms pop up--which means you need to know what to look out for! We are going to discuss the symptoms of this illness as well as the cause behind it and the steps that should be taken during treatment.

The period of time between actually contracting an illness and when the symptoms start showing up is called the "incubation period". Some illnesses, such as the chicken pox, can have an incubation period of up to two weeks, whereas the incubation period for scarlet fever is only a day or two. The symptoms of scarlet fever are pretty straight forward, plus scarlet fever has a tendency to affect children between five and ten years of age which can help narrow down the possibilities. In many cases, scarlet fever will start out as a sore throat or cough. The rash is what tips the hand when it comes to scarlet fever--hence the name scarlatina rash. The first signs of rash usually crop up around the neck and chest, then it spreads out to the rest of the body. The armpits and groin area may also turn a bright shade of red. The rash usually dwindles away after about three or four days of showing up, and is followed up by skin peeling (generally not painful). Another tell-tale sign is a condition known as "strawberry tongue". The tongue becomes swollen and red, with or without white patches, and may develop spots. It is also prudent to expect a fever around 101 degrees F (or higher when the fever "peaks"), chills, abdominal cramping, vomiting, and general joint and muscle aches.

Scarlet fever is caused by a bacteria called streptococcus pyogenes. The rash that accompanies scarlet fever is actually caused by a poison created by the streptococcus bacteria, a poison that doesn't always affect people in the same way. One child may be more sensitive to this toxin than another and develop full-fledged scarlet fever--rash and all--yet another child may not be as sensitive to the toxin and may simply experience a fever and chills, general malaise, vomiting, and achiness. The streptococcus bacteria is contagious through the air and through physical contact. This means that scarlet fever can be transmitted by sneezing, coughing, skin-to-skin contact, and even touching items that have been infected with the bacteria.

Treating scarlet fever is no fun at all--but what illness is fun to treat, right? As soon as you notice a rash on your child that is accompanied by a fever, it's time to visit the family doctor. The doctor will do a swabbing of the throat secretions (don't worry, this isn't painful) to send to the laboratory. After confirmation of the illness, the doctor will be able to prescribe a 10-day antibiotic treatment to help get rid of the bacteria, but your child will still be contagious during this time. Although children's acetaminophen or ibuprofen will be effective ways to reduce your child's fever and aches and pains, you can also try a lukewarm bath or compresses to help reduce the fever between doses of medicine. The rash and skin peeling may be itchy for your child, but try your best not to let them scratch the areas, as this could lead to skin damage and even scarring.

While it is impossible to shield your child from all diseases, you can increase your chances of avoiding this disease by ensuring that you are up to date on any illnesses that have cropped up at your child's day care or school and keeping your child from contact with others who have this illness. If your child has contracted scarlet fever, it is important that you do your part to ensure that he or she doesn't spread the illness to others by keeping your child house-bound until the 10-day course of antibiotics has been completed and your child is no longer contagious. If you are treating a sick child at home and need to go out, be sure to change your clothing and wash your hands and arms well before leaving so that you don't end up spreading the bacteria to others.