Health A to Z
Scarlet fever, also called scarlatina, is an infection that causes a blotchy, pink-red rash. It's most common in young children, but can affect people of any age.
It isn't usually serious and can be treated with antibiotics from your GP. Once you've had it, you're unlikely to get it again.
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Symptoms of scarlet fever develop within a week of being infected.
This may be followed by a rash on the body, a red face and a white or red tongue:
The scarlet fever rash:
The rash doesn't usually spread to the face, but the cheeks may turn very red.
This may look a bit like sunburn.
The area around the mouth usually stays pale.
Sometimes a white coating may form on the tongue.
This peels away after a few days, leaving the tongue red and swollen.
This is known as a "strawberry tongue".
See your GP or call NHS 111 as soon as possible if:
Your GP can usually diagnose scarlet fever by looking at the rash. Sometimes they may use a cotton bud to remove a bit of saliva from the throat so it can be tested.
Your GP will prescribe antibiotic tablets (or liquid for young children) to take for five or 10 days.
You or your child should start feeling better after a day or two, but make sure you finish the whole course of treatment.
While taking antibiotics:
Scarlet fever usually clears up within a week, although the skin may peel for a few weeks after the other symptoms have passed.
The infection is contagious from before the symptoms appear, until:
Further problems due to scarlet fever are rare, but there's a small risk of the infection spreading to other parts of the body and causing problems such as an ear infection or lung infection (pneumonia).
Contact your GP if you or your child gets any new symptoms that you're worried about in the weeks after a scarlet fever infection.
Scarlet fever is very contagious. It's spread in the tiny droplets found in an infected person's breath, coughs and sneezes.
You can be infected if the droplets get into your mouth, nose or eyes – either by being in close contact with an infected person, or by touching something that has droplets on it.
To help stop the infection spreading:
There's no evidence to suggest that getting scarlet fever during pregnancy will harm your baby. But it can make you feel unwell, so it's best to avoid close contact with anyone who has it.
If you do get symptoms of scarlet fever, see your GP for treatment.
The antibiotics used for scarlet fever are usually safe to take during pregnancy.
There are many other illnesses that can cause a spotty or blotchy red rash, including:
See your GP or call NHS 111 for advice if you or your child has a rash and you're worried.
Call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest accident and emergency (A&E) department if you think you or your child might have meningitis.