What is scarlet fever?

Updated: Jun 21, 2019
  • Author: Bahman Sotoodian, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
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Scarlet fever (known as scarlatina in older literature references) is a syndrome characterized by exudative pharyngitis (see the image below), fever, and bright-red exanthem. It is caused by streptococcal pyrogenic exotoxins (SPEs) types A, B, and C produced by group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS) found in secretions and discharge from the nose, ears, throat, and skin. Scarlet fever may follow streptococcal wound infections or burns, as well as upper respiratory tract infections. Food-borne outbreaks have been reported. [1, 2]  Reemergence of the condition is being recognized, perhaps because of newer virulence of the streptoccocal bacteria. [3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8]

The exudative pharyngitis typical of scarlet fever The exudative pharyngitis typical of scarlet fever. Although the tongue is somewhat out of focus, the whitish coating observed early in scarlet fever is visible.

See Back-to-School Illnesses: 15 Classroom Contagions, a Critical Images slideshow, to help identify conditions that may occur in young patients after they return to the classroom.

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