Scarlet Fever

Has Victorian connotations as fatal epidemics of Scarlet fever swept through slums in the pre-antibiotic era.

Group A streptococcus pyogenes is still carried in up to 20% of young children’s throats. Disease peaks in winter and spring (cool conditions, and more time indoors?). Spread easily through saliva.

Scarlet fever (scarlatina is usually used for mild cases) is when an exotoxin is produced, that causes fever and rash. Characteristic features are:

  • Strawberry tongue – progresses from white coated, to red, beefy tongue as coating lifts.
  • Perioral pallor
  • Fiery, widespread rash – rough “sandpaper” feel characteristic
  • Pastia’s lines – lines of petechiae in creases esp wrists, elbows
  • Palatal petechiae (“Forchheimer spots”) – not specific, also measles. 
  • As rash fades, desquamation can occur, particularly on fingers/toes. Should only happen once in lifetime, as antibodies form to toxin!?

No longer notifiable in Scotland, cf England/Wales.

Complications can still be severe of course, as with any group A strep disease:

Benefit of antibiotic treatment just ½ day symptoms! But without treatment would need to exclude from nursery/school for 14 days!!! Else after 24hrs antibiotics.

No resistance to penicillin and low MIC so preferred, although 10 day course needed for clearance from throat, as opposed to clinical improvement. Other antibiotics eg clindamycin may be chosen however if invasive disease.

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