Scarlet fever is a scary name for a not-very-scary condition. A variant of strep throat, scarlet fever causes a rash, predominantly on the face and trunk. The rash feels like coarse sandpaper to the touch, and it may be bright red. It may also affect the tongue, causing it to look like a strawberry. You might also see the classic signs of strep throat: a sore throat, swollen tonsils, fever, headaches, and belly pain. Sometimes, however, the rash is so faint and the symptoms so mild that the illness goes undiagnosed.
Scarlet fever is no better or worse than strep throat, and it should be treated in the same way: with a simple course of penicillin prescribed by your pediatrician. In many cases, the entire illness runs its course without any treatment. That said, the standard is to treat even mild episodes in order to prevent any of strep throat’s infrequent complications, which include the extremely rare but serious cardiac illness named rheumatic fever and kidney problems that can occur when strep is left untreated.
During healing, a mild or pronounced rash may be followed by peeling skin on the hands and feet. The peeling can last for many days, but it’s not painful, and it disappears spontaneously.