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Scarlet fever outbreak: The sign on your tongue to watch out for

Scarlet fever, a contagious infection that mostly affects young children, has been tearing across England and Wales in recent weeks. According to the Daily Mirror, hundreds of cases of scarlet fever have been reported, with almost double the amount of new infections in one week than the numbers recorded six weeks ago. Health officials recorded 450 cases in England and 30 in Wales for the week ending December 1.


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According to This Morning’s Dr Sara, scarlet fever is a “flu-like illness” so children may experience a sore throat.

In addition, Dr Sara said that children may also develop a “strawberry tongue”, which tends to be red and swollen. A white coating may also appear on the tongue.

Other symptoms may include swollen neck glands and a rash that appears a few days later.

According to the NHS, the rash feels like sandpaper and starts on the chest and tummy.

On lighter skin it looks pink or red and on darker skin it can be more difficult to see, but you can still feel it.

The rash does not appear on the face, but the cheeks can be flushed.

The symptoms are the same for children and adults, although scarlet fever is much rarer in adults, explains the NHS.

You should see a GP if you or child:

  • Have scarlet fever symptoms
  • Do not get better in a week (after seeing a GP), especially if your child has recently had chickenpox
  • Are ill again weeks after scarlet fever has cleared up – this can be a sign of a complication, such as rheumatic fever
  • Are feeling unwell and have been in contact with someone who has scarlet fever

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“Scarlet fever is very infectious. Check with a GP before you go in. They may suggest a phone consultation,” cautioned the NHS.

Scarlet fever is usually diagnoseed by looking at the tongue and rash and sometimes the GP may wipe a cotton bud around the back of the throat to test for bacteria and arrange a blood test.

How to treat scarlet fever

Your GP will prescribe antibiotics to treat the contagious infection.

As the NHS explains, antibiotics will:

  • Help you get better quicker
  • Reduce the risk of serious illnesses, such as pneumonia
  • Make it less likely that you’ll pass the infection on to someone else


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“Keep taking the antibiotics until they’re finished, even if you feel better,” said the health body.

How long scarlet fever lasts

As the NHS explains, scarlet fever lasts for around a week.

You’re infectious up to seven days before the symptoms start until 24 hours after you take the first antibiotic tablets.

People who do not take antibiotics can be infectious for two to three weeks after symptoms start.

While you are recovering, simple steps can be taken to alleviate symptoms.

The NHS recommends:

  • Drinking cool fluids
  • Eating soft foods if you have a sore throat
  • Taking painkillers like paracetamol to bring down a temperature (do not give aspirin to children under 16)
  • Using calamine lotion or antihistamine tablets to stop itching

Does it pose a serious health threat?

In the past, scarlet fever was a serious illness, but antibiotics mean it’s now less common and easier to treat.

Cases of scarlet fever have increased in recent years, however – public Health England records the number of scarlet fever infections each year.

According to the NHS, complications are rare. They can happen in the weeks after the infection as well as during it, and can include:

  • Ear infection
  • Throat abscess
  • Sinusitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Rheumatic fever

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