What Causes Scarlet Fever in Children?

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  • Written By: Sarah Sullins
  • Edited By: M. C. Hughes
  • Last Modified Date: 18 January 2019
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Scarlet fever in children is a contagious infection that is caused by a bacteria known as "group A streptococcus," or more commonly called "strep." The type of bacteria that causes this infection is a variation of the same bacteria that produces strep throat, so many of the symptoms for scarlet fever are the same as the symptoms for strep throat. When a child comes into contact with group A strep, whether it is spread by coughing, sneezing, or direct contact, it may cause infection with this type of step.

Group A strep is a type of bacteria that normally infects individuals' skin and throats. Generally, these infections only produce mild infections like impetigo or step throat. There are times, though, when this bacteria can cause a more harmful infection like scarlet fever in children.

When a child comes into contact with bacteria that can cause scarlet fever, he or she will rarely show symptoms for the first one to four days. After this period, known as the incubation time, the infection will start to appear as swollen lymph nodes, a high fever, and a red throat. The child's tongue may be white or yellow, or have white or yellow patches on it. During this time the bacteria will also release a toxin, or poison, into the child's body, which will appear as a red rash on the skin. A red, strawberry-like tongue is also a possible and common symptom of scarlet fever in children.


Even when directly exposed, children do not always become infected with the step infection. Many children are immune to the bacteria that causes scarlet fever in children. Other children, however, can be very sensitive to this type of bacteria and may develop scarlet fever more easily. For this reason, even if two children are in close contact almost every day, one child may contract scarlet fever while another may not.

There are many complications that are associated with scarlet fever. Most problems can be avoided or eliminated if quick medical attention is provided. Middle ear infections, soar throats, rheumatic fever, and pneumonia are some complications that may occur.

Antibiotics are generally used to treat scarlet fever in children. These will help to fight and treat the infection, as well as shorten the amount of time in which a child is contagious. Although many of the symptoms will fade within a week of taking the antibiotics, a child may still experience swollen glands and tonsils for a few weeks after. His skin may also peel after the rash fades away.



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