Scarlet fever not only affects childrenExperience it once and be immune to it for the rest of your life? This is not the case with scarlet fever. the illness may recur. If left untreated, it can have serious consequences.
Once the tongue out, please. It is deep red? This is not so good. Such "raspberry tongue" is often an indication of scarlet fever.
This is an infectious disease caused by bacteria – so-called A-streptococci. A sore throat, skin rash and fever are often the result.
Scarlet fever: adults are not spared
Although scarlet fever is considered a classic childhood disease, this does not mean that adults are spared per se. "People of any age can contract it, but children between the ages of three and twelve are much more likely to be affected," explains Prof. Andreas Podbielski from the Institute of Medical Microbiology, Virology and Hygiene at Rostock University Medical Center.
A highly contagious disease
The disease is highly contagious. In community facilities such as kindergartens. Schools, the scarlet fever bacteria can spread quickly. Infection is caused by droplets containing the pathogen, which are spread by coughing, sneezing or contaminated hands.
At the latest on the third day after infection, symptoms appear. "Symptoms can vary widely," Podbielski says. In addition to sore throat and fever, a skin rash usually develops with many red spots on the body – the palms of the hands and soles of the feet are excluded from it. It often first appears in the groin area or on the inner thighs. The rash does not itch. In addition, there is the "raspberry tongue.
"Children can also experience abdominal pain and vomiting," says Hermann Josef Kahl, a pediatrician and adolescent specialist in Dusseldorf. Scarlet fever can also be accompanied by symptoms such as fatigue and swollen tonsils.
What to do if such symptoms appear? The first rule is to stay away from kindergartens, schools or places where you meet many other people.
No contact with others – even for adults
While there is no nationwide requirement to report scarlet fever to public health departments, Podbielski said. Nevertheless, even if scarlet fever is only suspected, it is not permissible to send your child to kindergarten or school. "Even otherwise, children who may be ill should not get together with playmates," emphasizes pediatrician Kahl.
Adults who are actually or possibly ill must not engage in any occupational activities involving contact with other people. This contact ban applies until the attending physician lifts it. The place to go for patients with suspected scarlet fever is the pediatrician or family doctor, respectively.
Rapid test for streptococci
Physicians usually recognize the disease by the typical complaints. To be on the safe side with the diagnosis, a rapid test is often also carried out. A sample is taken from the throat and examined. If streptococci are found, this is clear evidence of scarlet fever. If they are not found, however, this does not necessarily mean that there is no scarlet fever present.
Then the doctor may send a swab from the patient's throat to the laboratory, where the sample is analyzed in detail.
With scarlet fever: Therapy with antibiotics
Scarlet fever is treated with antibiotics, usually penicillin tablets. For children, either penicillin juice or cephalosporin or macrolide tablets are available. In some cases, additional painkillers and fever reducers are prescribed to alleviate the symptoms.
The symptoms often subside after a few days. "As a rule, there is no longer any danger of infection within 24 hours of the first dose of antibiotics," explains Andreas Podbielski. Penicillin is taken for ten days, while children take the medication for five to seven days.
But even if the symptoms subside after a few days: Patients should not stop taking the antibiotics, as Hermann Josef Kahl emphasizes.
If signs of illness such as fever or purulent spots on the body persist 24 hours after the first dose of antibiotics, those affected should not go back to daycare centers, schools or workplaces with a lot of customer contact until the symptoms have subsided. "This can take 14 days or longer," says Podbielski.
Severe consequences possible if infection is left untreated
The treachery of scarlet fever: a mild course of the disease is difficult or impossible to distinguish from strep throat. But if an infection with streptococcus is left untreated, the bacteria can spread through the bloodstream in the body and cause serious illnesses.
That can be for instance a heart muscle inflammation or a kidney damage. "Rheumatic fever is also possible, although it has now become very rare in Germany," adds Podbielski.
Once you have survived scarlet fever, you are not immune to it. This is because the bacteria have subgroups. That is, "At best, you are protected from contracting the particular subgroup again," Kahl explains.
How to protect yourself from scarlet fever
There is no vaccination against scarlet fever. This makes it all the more important to avoid contact with sick people who are still contagious. The most important thing is to wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water.
Another question that arises: Should you take antibiotics as a preventive measure if you have had contact with a scarlet fever patient or are caring for your sick child?
"Only in exceptional cases," says Kahl. It could make sense at most, if one is weakened by certain diseases or medicines itself. "Otherwise good hand hygiene is sufficient."
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