Scarlet Fever in Children: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Scarlet fever is a term used for strep throat with a rash. Usually it is caused by the same bacteria that results in strep throat, but it can be caused by other strep infections. Scarlet fever and strep infections are treated with antibiotics. Treatment can prevent serious problems from strep infection.

The rough, red rash that occurs with scarlet fever usually fades in about a week. At that time the skin may begin to peel.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • If the doctor prescribed antibiotics for your child, give them as directed. Do not stop using them just because your child feels better. Your child needs to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • The strep infection that causes scarlet fever can spread to others until 24 hours after your child begins taking antibiotics. During this time, your child should avoid contact with other people, especially infants and other children. Do not send your child to school until 1 full day after he or she began taking antibiotics. Keep your child's drinking glass and eating utensils separate, and wash these items well in hot, soapy water.
  • Have your child age 8 or older gargle with warm salt water once an hour to help reduce swelling and relieve pain in the throat. Use 1 teaspoon of salt mixed in 1 cup of warm water.
  • Give your child an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin). Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • Be careful when giving your child over-the-counter cold or flu medicines and Tylenol at the same time. Many of these medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Read the labels to make sure that you are not giving your child more than the recommended dose. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • An over-the-counter anesthetic throat spray or throat lozenges may help relieve throat pain. Do not give lozenges to children younger than 4 years. If your child is younger than age 2, ask your doctor if you can give your child numbing medicines.
  • Give your child plenty of fluids to drink. Fluids may help soothe an irritated throat. Hot fluids, such as tea or soup, may help relieve throat pain.
  • While your child's throat is very sore, give liquid nourishment such as soup or high-protein drinks.
  • Make sure your child gets lots of rest.
  • Keep your child away from smoke. Do not smoke or let anyone else smoke around your child or in your house.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse call line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's pain gets much worse on one side of the throat.
  • You notice changes in your child's voice.
  • Your child has trouble opening his or her mouth.
  • Your child has increased trouble breathing.
  • Your child has increased trouble swallowing.
  • Your child acts very sick.
  • Your child has a stiff neck.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse call line if:

  • Your child has a new fever.
  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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