While scarlet fever may sound like something that street children in a Charles Dickens novel would catch, this dangerous disease is no relic of the past. In recent years, cases of scarlet fever have popped up all over the United States.
Parents who don’t know much about this need to know what their little ones might be facing, so today we’ll be offering five top tips about how to stay on top of scarlet fever.
1) Understanding the disease
The first thing to know about scarlet fever is that it’s a bacterial disease, not viral like the cold or flu. The specific bacteria that causes the disease is Group A Streptococcus, and just as the name suggests, scarlet fever almost always is accompanied by strep throat. When someone is infected, the bacteria creates a poisonous substance that spreads around the skin.
Why scarlet? The fever is sometimes also called scarlatina, because the toxins cause red bumps inside the mouth and on the skin. The distinctive color is one of the best tools parents have while trying to identify the disease.
Scarlet fever mostly affects school-age children. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), those aged 5 to 15 are most at risk, whereas newborns and toddlers are usually not at risk.
2) Identifying the disease
While scarlet fever can produce many symptoms, the first will usually be similar to strep—a high temperature (101 F or 38 C, or greater) and a sore throat. After this, other symptoms like chills or vomiting might follow.
Once the disease has begun to take hold, the characteristic redness will appear. On the tongue, it can look like the surface of a strawberry—red with little bumps all over. The rash that most people think of when they hear scarlet fever will usually kick in after a couple of days on the chest, neck, and groin, but it can appear anywhere on the body.
This bumpy redness will eventually have a scratchy, sandpaper-like texture. Many kids’ cheeks will become rosy and the most striking “scarlet” color can appear in places where the skin is very sensitive, such as the armpits and groin.
3) Treating the disease
While scarlet fever used to be a much-feared disease in children, these days antibiotics make it much more treatable. Common antibiotics like penicillin, or if your kids are allergic, amoxicillin, can be very effective in reducing the time it takes to recover as well as cutting down on the discomfort caused by the fever and rashes.
The earlier you identify it and start the treatment, the more effective it will be in keeping your other children from catching it themselves. If parents wait too long or don’t seek treatment, the disease can have very serious consequences. Children can develop rheumatic fever, which attacks their vital organs. Suffice to say, this is something you can and need to avoid! Don’t delay, treat.
4) Preventing the disease
What can you do to avoid the disease? Since it is spread by bacteria, good hygiene can make a huge difference. Teaching your kids how to wash their hands early and often is vital. Make sure they cover their mouths when coughing and sneezing so they don’t spread germs to their siblings or classmates.
If you think a child might be sick with scarlet fever, be sure to give him or her a separate cup and set of dishes while eating so that their germs don’t get passed on to anyone else.
Last but certainly not least, if your kids have any of the symptoms described above, get them to your pediatrician or nearest clinic. Better safe than scarlet!