Mother and Baby

Scarlet Fever

While still considered quite a rare illness, cases of scarlet fever have risen recently, so here’s what you need to know if you spot it

It may be an illness you associate more with children from the 19th century (is it just us who sobbed when Beth from Little Women got scarlet fever?), but cases of the illness have increased recently in England and Scotland.

‘In the first eight weeks of 2014, England saw a third more cases of scarlet fever than it did the previous year,’ says Dr Tony Waterston from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. ‘The reasons for this aren’t clear, but it could just be part of a cycle of increases of the illness, which tend to come in waves over the course of a couple of years.’

What is Scarlet Fever?

Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection which can affect children from 12 months and older. ‘Babies are less likely to catch it as they still have some residual immune strength passed on from their mother,’ says Dr Waterston.

‘It usually looks like tonsillitis – the tonsils will be swollen and the glands around his neck will be enlarged'

Scarlet fever is very contagious and can be passed on when bacteria from an infected person is spread by coughing, sneezing, breathing out, contaminated food or sharing food utensils. ‘For that reason, it’s vital that your child stays off nursery or school when scarlet fever is diagnosed,’ says Dr Waterston.

Scarlet Fever Symptoms

The main symptom to watch out for is a sore throat.

‘It usually looks like tonsillitis – the tonsils will be swollen and the glands around his neck will be enlarged,’ says Dr Waterston. ‘Your child may also have a temperature, a white tongue and a red rash on his body, as well as red cheeks. The rash will look quite blotchy – like sunburn – and could feel rough to the touch, like sandpaper.’

Scarlet Fever Treatments

As scarlet fever is caused by a bacterial infection, it can be treated quite effectively with antibiotics, so if you spot any the symptoms, take your child to your GP.

Once at home, you can treat your toddler in the same way you would for other illnesses – plenty of rest, fluids and infant or child paracetamol to help ease the fever. ‘Your child should be better within a week,’ says Dr Waterston. 

Scarlet Fever Spread Prevention

Preventing measures are same as for other infections. That is often washing hands, avoiding sharing utensils, food and personal items. There is no vaccine to prevent scarlet fever yet.

If your child has scarlet fever, make sure she stays at home for at least 24 hours after the start of treatment with antibiotics. Tell your child to cover her nose and mouth when she coughs or sneezes with a tissue and wash her hands after that.

Has your baby had scarlet fever? How did you help ease the symptoms? Let us know in the comments box below.


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