Scarlet Fever (Adult)

Scarlet fever is an infection with streptococcal bacteria. These are the same bacteria that cause strep throat. It is spread on droplets that travel through the air when a person coughs. Symptoms include throat pain that is worse with swallowing. A rash may develop. The rash usually appears a few days after the sore throat. It looks like tiny raised pink dots with a rough feeling like sandpaper. You may also have headache, body aches, and a fever. Untreated, the streptococcal bacteria can spread to other parts of the body, causing blood stream infection, pneumonia, and other complications. Untreated, scarlet fever can also lead to rheumatic fever, a condition of the heart, nervous system, and other parts of the body.

Antibiotics are used to treat the infection. You may start feeling better after a few days of treatment. The rash usually clears after 4 to 5 days. The skin may peel (like a bad sunburn) in 1 to 2 weeks.

Home care

  • Rest at home for at least the first few days.

  • Be sure to take the antibiotic medicines as directed until they are gone or the healthcare provider tells you to stop, even if you are feeling better. This is very important to prevent later problems from strep infection (such as heart or kidney disease).

  • Fever increases water loss from the body. Drink plenty of fluids.

  • Ask your healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter medicines.

  • Stay home from work or school until you have finished at least 2 days of antibiotics, no longer have a fever, and are feeling better.

  • Use throat lozenges as needed to help reduce throat pain. Gargling with warm salt water may also help. Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon of salt in 1 glass of warm water.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider or our staff as directed.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away for any of the following:

  • Fever as directed by the healthcare provider

  • Throat pain or headache that is getting worse

  • Neck pain or stiffness

  • Dark purple rash

  • Blood in the urine

  • Joint pain or swelling

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Throat pain causing severe drooling, inability to swallow, or inability to open mouth wide

  • Trouble breathing

  • Unusual drowsiness or confusion

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