Scarlet fever is an illness caused by a bug called Group A Streptococcus, which is found on the skin and in the throat. Scarlet fever mostly affects children and can easily spread to other people.
Generally, scarlet fever is much less common than it used to be but in the last few years there have been a number of outbreaks. It is important that children with scarlet fever are assessed by a healthcare professional so that they can be started on antibiotics.
The scarlet fever rash often begins with small spots on the body that then spread to the neck, arms and legs over the next 1 to 2 days. The rash may be harder to see on darker skin tones. It often feels like 'sandpaper' but is not itchy.
Your child may also have a:
Painful, swollen glands in the neck
A red tongue (strawberry tongue)
If you think that your child is likely to have scarlet fever, you should by reviewed by a healthcare professional.
If a healthcare professional thinks that your child has strep throat or scarlet fever, they will prescribe your child antibiotics. This reduces the chance of their infection becoming more severe but more importantly also stops them spreading the infection to others (after 24 hours of starting antibiotics), especially to people at higher risk of severe infections such as the elderly and those with weakened immune systems.
If your child has been in close contact with a case of scarlet fever or strep throat, they do not need to be treated with antibiotics unless they are showing signs of infection (severe tonsillitis with fever in the absence of a runny nose or signs of scarlet fever). Only in exceptional circumstances will the local public health team recommend for an entire school class to be treated with antibiotics.
Your child may continue to have a fever for a few days after starting antibiotics. Very rarely, Group A streptococcus can spread to other areas of the body (invasive group A strep), causing infections in the neck (tonsillar abscesses or lymph node abscesses), behind the ear (mastoiditis), chest infections (pneumonia), bone and joint infections (septic arthritis) or sepsis. Look at the red /amber /green information below to help identify if your child has features of invasive group A strep or other complications of Group A strep.
Go to the nearest Hospital Emergency (A&E) Department or phone 999
Please ring your GP surgery or call NHS 111 - dial 111
If symptoms persist for 4 hours or more and you have not been able to speak to either a member of staff from your GP practice or to NHS 111 staff, recheck that your child has not developed any red features.
Continue providing your child’s care at home. If you are still concerned about your child, speak to your health visitor, local pharmacist or call NHS 111– dial 111
Children and young people who are unwell and have a high temperature should stay at home. They can go back to school, college or childcare when they no longer have a high temperature, and they are well enough to attend.
This guidance is written by healthcare professionals from across Hampshire, Dorset and the Isle of Wight.