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Scarlet Fever

Scarlet Fever, also known as Scarlatina, is a contagious bacterial infection caused by Group A Streptococcus, which is found on the skin and in the throat. It is most common in children aged between 5 and 15 years, although can also be found in adults.

Scarlet Fever can be caught by:

  • inhaling droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes
  • touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching the eyes, nose or mouth
  • touching the skin of a person with a streptococcal skin infection
  • sharing contaminated towels, baths, clothes or bed linen

The infection can be passed on by someone who has the bacteria but does not have symptoms.

Scarlet Fever is very contagious for up to 6 days before symptoms appear. If left untreated the patient could be contagious for up to 3 weeks after their symptoms start. With antibiotics this is reduced to 24 hours after the first does of antibiotics is taken.


Initial symptoms include:

  • a sore throat
  • high temperature
  • flushed cheeks
  • swollen tongue
  • enlarged glands in the neck

With Scarlet Fever a rash will appear around 12 to 48 hours later, usually starting on the chest and tummy area and then spreading to the rest of the body. The rash is bright red and looks like sunburn, and makes the skin feel rough like sandpaper. 

Scarlet Fever can be serious, but antibiotics are usually prescribed which have made it less common.

When to seek advice and treatment

It is advisable to speak to a GP if you have Scarlet Fever symptoms.

Emergency treatment should be sought if the patient is also experiencing shortness of breath, rapid breathing, chest pain, dehydration, dizziness or persistent or severe vomiting or diarrhoea.

To help relieve some of the symptoms:

  • drink cool fluids
  • eat soft foods if you have a sore throat
  • take painkillers such as paracetamol to control the temperature
  • take antihistamine or use calamine lotion to reduce the itching.
  • schools, nurseries and GPs should report any cases to their local health protection team, particularly if there is more than one person affected


The patient should remain at home and stay away from nursery, school and work until they are no longer contagious, 24 hours after the first dose of antibiotics.

A patient with Scarlet Fever should observe good hygiene - wash their hands often with soap and water, use tissues when coughing or sneezing and dispose of used tissues as quickly as possible.

Someone with Scarlet Fever should avoid sharing cutlery, towels, cloths or bedding with others. After using the bathroom, it should be cleaned thoroughly to reduce the likelihood of transmission to others.

Reporting Scarlet Fever

The local Public Health - Health Protection Team for North and West Northamptonshire work closely with UKHSA (UK Health Security Agency). They use routine surveillance programmes to monitor the spread of infectious diseases and provide support to prevent and control infection in establishments such as hospitals, care homes and schools..

As Scarlet Fever is a notifiable disease in England, it is important the health professionals inform East Midlands UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) of any cases for early identification and management of cases to prevent onward transmission of this disease.

Contact details for East Midlands UKHSA

Telephone: 0344 2254 524 (option 1)
Email: [email protected] 

These are not constantly monitored out of hours.

Further information

Last updated 16 October 2023