*This is a collaborative post
There was alarming news recently that cases of scarlet fever are on the rise in the UK – and have now hit their highest levels since the 1960s.
But what is the disease, what are the warning signs we need to look out for, and how can we tell if our children might be developing it?
With numbers on the rise, parents need to be alert to an illness that was quite rare during our own childhoods – although perhaps not those of our own parents.
Here’s what you should be looking out for:
What is Scarlet Fever?
Scarlet fever is a bacterial infection, caused by the Streptococcus pyogenes bacteria. This same bacteria can also be responsible for the skin condition impetigo. The infection can happen to anyone, although it tends to be far more prevalent in children under the age of ten. Cases can be treated with GP-administered antibiotics, and once a carrier has had it, they are very unlikely to have it again. In our parents day, the illness could be dangerous and sometimes even life-threatening, but modern treatments mean its now usually much less serious. The bacteria that cause the infection are commonly found on the skin or in the throat, where they usually live without causing any problems. Under certain circumstances, however, these bacteria are triggered to start producing toxins which result in the symptoms and the illness itself. If your child has a compromised immune system as a result of other illnesses, this can be more serious, so it’s important to be alert to any symptoms indicating something is wrong. Learn about weakened immune systems in childhood and the complications they can cause at HealthyChildren.org.
What symptoms are there?
The main characteristic of scarlet fever is a rash, usually accompanied by a sore throat. It can take up to a week after infection for the symptoms to reveal themselves fully. Other things to keep an eye out for are swollen glands, a headache, a high temperature of 38.3 degrees or above and red and white discolouration on the tongue. The tell-tale rash usually starts on the chest or tummy area and then spreads, formed of distinctive pink-red blotches that may then ‘join up’ to form areas of red inflamed skin. The folds of the body, such as armpits, knees and elbows may be the brightest red areas, and if you press a glass on the rash, it disappears. To the sufferer, they can feel as if their skin is sandpapery. Usually, the illness has a duration of about a week if no further complications occur. Most of the symptoms should generally be cleared up within that time, although you may find that there are a few weeks of peeling skin after the infection has gone Find out more about the symptoms at patient.info.
How Do I Prevent and Treat It?
The disease is spread by infected mucus and saliva, so make sure cups, plates and utensils are not shared, and contaminated tissues are disposed of. All bedding and clothes should be put through a hot wash after treatment, and make sure your child is kept away from school or nursery for at least 24 hours after beginning their course of antibiotics, and that they finish the full course, even after symptoms diminish, as the bacteria can still be carried and transmitted to others. Make sure your child has plenty of fluids and give junior ibuprofen to bring down the temperature and aches – find out more about using it here.