Scarlet fever is a serious disease, but it starts out quite harmlessly. How to distinguish the children's disease from a normal sore throat? How should your child be treated?
The name scarlet fever is derived from the color scarlet, which is also the most recognizable sign of this disease for parents: a reddened throat and later a red tongue and red skin rash. It is with 50.000 annual cases not a rare disease: on average, more than 6% of all children under the age of 5 get scarlet fever each year.
At the beginning, your child has common cold signs such as fever, malaise, and especially sore throat. Often the tonsils are also already swollen and inflamed. At the latest when you see whitish coatings on your child's tongue and the child complains of difficulty swallowing, you should consult a doctor. As the disease progresses, the coatings dissolve. A bright red tongue appears underneath – the so-called raspberry tongue.
Scarlet fever is caused by bacteria – a specific form of the so-called streptococcus, which is usually transmitted via droplet infection through the mouth and nose, as in the case of a common cold. So infection can happen very quickly – especially in children. This particular form of streptococcus produces a toxic substance, which in turn causes the rash typical of scarlet fever after a few days: many small, red pustules, mainly in the folds of the body such as the armpits or groin. Scarlet fever is also characterized by the fact that a triangle around the mouth and chin remains without redness, making it look like a white spot or "milk mustache". After a few days the fever drops. In the further course the skin scales like eczema.
Scarlet fever can often be clearly recognized by the pediatrician, but will be tested to be on the safe side and then treated immediately with penicillin, a special antibiotic. Already after the first day of antibacterial treatment your child feels better. The tonsils do not have to be removed and the child is no longer contagious after only one or two days. However, the penicillin must necessarily be passed until the end of the package, usually ten days.
This is very important, because otherwise not all scarlet streptococci are killed and they become insensitive to the antibiotic.
Penicillin helps your child recover quickly from the disease and not develop late symptoms.
Because of the usually uncomplicated healing process during antibiotic therapy, the risks of the disease are forgotten. Children with scarlet fever who are not treated with penicillin are contagious for three weeks and must be isolated. Attending kindergarten or school is not possible for several weeks. In addition, they run the risk of developing serious secondary diseases. Even if you are critical against frequent taking of antibiotics: in this case the medicine is really necessary.
If your child does not receive penicillin, the germs have a much stronger effect and can lead to complications such as ear infections or tonsillitis. The secondary diseases of scarlet fever also occur much more frequently without penicillin: Weeks after the infection, rheumatic inflammation can develop, leading to joint changes with pain and even causing inflammation of the heart, the so-called scarlet heart. Even inflammation of the kidneys or neuropsychiatric symptoms such as strange tics can occur after scarlet fever. These are consequence of the toxin that the scarlet fever pathogens have on the body. The administration of penicillin reduces the risk very effectively.