What is scarlet fever? After outbreak at Surrey school what are the signs and symptoms?

The pupils at Ashford Church of England Primary School had caught the group A streptococcal infection, also known as Strep A, which causes scarlet fever.

But what is it? How do you avoid getting it and how do you treat it if you or your child become unwell?

Dr Steve Iley, medical director at Bupa UK, reveals what you need to know.

What is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever is an infectious bacterial illness, which usually involves a sore throat, fever and rash. It most commonly follows on from a throat infection caused by a type of bacteria called Streptococcus A.

Who are the high-risk groups?

Scarlet fever mainly affects children under the age of 10, and in particular those between two and eight; however, you can get it at any age.

It usually spreads from one infected individual to others through tiny droplets in the air. This means the infection can spread easily in spaces where children are in close contact, like classrooms and nurseries.

What are the symptoms of scarlet fever?

Initial symptoms of scarlet fever usually start between one and four days after infection. A sore throat, a fever, headaches, chills and feeling sick are all symptoms.

Then about 12 to 48 hours after the fever starts, a skin rash will appear, first on the neck and then the body. The rash will make the skin feel rough like sandpaper and will consist of pimples that are small, raised and reddish in colour.

Another symptom of scarlet fever is what is called strawberry tongue. This is when the tongue is at first white with red inflamed parts (white strawberry tongue). Then, after four to five days, it goes red and shiny (red strawberry tongue).

How do I know if I need to see a doctor?

If you have a young child who is poorly, be vigilant and look out for any of the above symptoms that could be linked to scarlet fever. If you think your child may have scarlet fever, contact your GP immediately for advice.

If you or your child has scarlet fever, get plenty of rest and avoid going into work, school or nursery for a couple of days after you start taking your antibiotics. It usually takes a week to make a full recovery if you get treatment.

How is scarlet fever treated?

GPs usually prescribe antibiotics for adults and children. Make sure you complete the full course.

You can also take pain relief medicines, like paracetamol and ibuprofen alongside these to help ease symptoms but make sure you read the instructions and ask the pharmacist or your GP before giving them to your children.

How dangerous is scarlet fever?

Scarlet fever can usually be treated quickly with antibiotics but it can be fatal; however, this is extremely rare.

What can you do to avoid getting scarlet fever?

Make sure your children wash their hands regularly and encourage good hygiene at all times. This includes washing their hands in the morning and at the end of the day, after going to the toilet and before and after eating food. Washing your hands is an effective way to get rid of bacteria.

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