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Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever (scarlatina) is an infection that usually affects young children, although it can affect anyone. It is called scarlet fever as it causes a mottled pink/red rash to the skin.


  • It is very infectious and is spread by the breath of an infected person
  • It isn’t usually serious, and can be treated with antibiotics
  • You don’t usually get it more than once


Symptoms usually develop within seven days of contact with an infected person and include:

  • sore throat
  • headache
  • high temperature (38C or above)
  • swollen neck glands
  • being sick
  • mottled rash, which turns white if you press a glass on it. The rash usually starts on the tummy and then spreads. The rash often feels rough.
  • red cheeks which looks similar to sunburn. Doesn’t usually affect the area around the mouth
  • red or white coated tongue (which will peel away leaving the tongue red and swollen)

Scarlet fever

You should contact your GP or call NHS 111 if you think that you or your child has scarlet fever.

You or your child may be given antibiotics, which will help with the infection. Young children get this in liquid form.


  • give lots of drinks
  • rest
  • you can give paediatric (children’s) paracetamol if they have a high temperature (over 38C)
  • even if your child begins to feel better after a few days, complete the whole course of antibiotics to fully clear the infection.

With treatment, scarlet fever will usually clear within seven days, although the skin may continue to peel.

Your child is infectious for seven days from when the symptoms start until:

  • 24 hours after you give them their first antibiotic
  • 2 – 3 weeks without antibiotics

If you have any concerns that your child is not improving after this time, contact your GP.

Complications are not common but may develop into:-

  • Ear infections
  • Meningitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Throat abscess
  • Rheumatic fever

As scarlet fever is very infectious, remember to:

  • Always wash your hands regularly with soap and water
  • Use tissues to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Put used tissues in a bin and wash your hands

Children with scarlet fever should stay off nursery or school for 24 hours after starting antibiotics or, if not on antibiotics, until their fever is gone.

Don’t share anything with a child\person who may be infected, including:

  • Towels
  • Cutlery
  • Food and drinks

Page last reviewed: 23-06-2021

Next review due: 23-06-2024