Scarlet Fever - Symptoms

If you or someone you know has had scarlet fever, what were the signs and symptoms?

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What are scarlet fever symptoms and signs?

Scarlet fever usually starts abruptly with a sore throat and fever. Headache, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, and fatigue are common. Younger children may complain of abdominal pain or have vomiting. On examination, the throat is inflamed and there may be patches of yellow pus (exudates) on the back of the throat. Although most cases of scarlet fever start with a sore throat, a small proportion arises from streptococcal infection of a wound.

Within two days of onset, a rash begins to appear. The rash usually starts on the chest and trunk then spreads to the arms and legs. The rash does not usually appear on the palms or soles. The face may be flushed, except for a pale area around the lips (circumoral pallor). In places where there are skin creases such as elbows, the rash may cause deep red lines known as Pastia's lines. The typical rash is diffusely red and blanches when pressed, but there may be areas with small cherry-red dots known as "petechiae" that do not blanch. Petechiae may also be seen inside the mouth on the palate. When the rash is present, the skin has small bumps and may feel rough like sandpaper (see Figure 1).

Picture of scarlet fever rash
Figure 1: Picture of scarlet fever rash on arm; Source: CDC

After two to four days, the rash begins to fade. At this time, the skin may start to peel and flake (desquamation), looking like the aftermath of a bad sunburn. Desquamation is particularly noticeable on the face and hands.

In addition to the skin rash, the tongue initially appears to be coated with a white substance through which red papillae may be seen. This is called a "white strawberry tongue." After two to four days, the coating sloughs off, leaving a bright red tongue with red papillae, called the "red strawberry tongue."

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See what others are saying

Comment from: nanu, 35-44 Female (Patient) Published: February 20

Out of the blue I became nauseous and vomited. I felt terrible the rest of the day and just relaxed. Over the next day or two I developed a rash on my arms that became very fine and sandpaper like and light pink in color. It eventually spread to legs, abdomen, back etc. I thought it was sun poison. As soon as my doctor took a look at me he said without a doubt "scarlet fever". I don"t remember feeling bad or having a sore throat at all. I was 42 at the time and never had strep throat in my life. Like I said, it was out of the blue.

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Comment from: 3-6 Female (Caregiver) Published: June 02

Unfortunately my daughter had no signs of strep throat prior to getting scarlet fever. Her only sign of scarlet fever at the beginning was abdominal pain on and off with a minor rash on her face. Then the rash spread quickly and her face got a bit puffy. The doctor did an automatic check for strep due to it being rampant at the time, May 2014, in our area and it came back highly positive in less than 1 minute. Then add in the rash that had covered her entire body at this point she was diagnosed with scarlet fever. Thankfully she doesn"t feel too bad and is now on medication.

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