Scarlet Fever in Adults

Scarlet fever causes a high temperature with sore throat and a rash. Children between the ages of 2 to 10 are at a greater risk of catching scarlet fever. However, it can affect anyone from any age group. Though it was considered a serious illness with life-threatening consequences, it has become less serious in the last decade or so. It causes many complications if not treated in a timely manner. Keep reading to find out more about causes and treatment options for scarlet fever.

What Causes Scarlet Fever in Adults?

A bacterium called streptococcus pyogenes is responsible for causing scarlet fever. Streptococcus pyogenes is the same bacterium that causes strep throat. Adults experience symptoms of scarlet fever when the bacteria release toxins.

In addition, some specific strains of streptococcus pyogenes are linked to skin infections, such as impetigo. These strains can also cause scarlet fever, though it is quite rare these days.

How Does It Spread?

You may become infected by inhaling the bacteria through droplets of water released when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The bacteria may also land on hard surfaces such as drinking glasses, doorknobs and infect people who are exposed to these areas. You may become infected if you touch the skin of someone suffering from a streptococcal skin infection. Sharing clothes, towels, or bed linens with an infected person may also contribute to contracting the infection.

Interestingly, some people develop scarlet fever but they do not have any symptoms because they are sensitive to the toxins released by streptococcal bacteria. These people are also contagious and can transfer infection to others.

What Are the Symptoms?

Scarlet fever in adults usually produces the same symptoms you experience when you have strep infection. Red tongue, Pastia's lines, flushed face, and a rash are the most common symptoms. The only difference is that you will develop a rash when you have scarlet fever. The most common symptoms of scarlet fever include the following:

  • Fever of 101°F or higher
  • Sore throat with difficulty swallowing
  • Yellow or white coating or spots on the tonsils and throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

You are more likely to experience some other symptoms before you develop the rash. This list includes stomachache, headache, listlessness, vomiting, and general body aches. You usually do not experience cold symptoms, such as runny nose, sneezing, or cough. It takes some time (24 hours or longer after the infection) for the rash to develop, which will feel like fine sandpaper. It begins on the abdomen and chest, but then spreads over the rest of the body in a couple of days. The redness is more apparent in skin folds, such as in the armpits, groin, and elbow creases.

Treatments for Scarlet Fever

Most mild cases resolve within a week without any medical intervention. However, you should talk to your doctor because getting treatment will help accelerate recovery and prevent further complications. You will start to feel better after 4-5 days of treatment.

Your doctor will recommend a 10-day course of antibiotics. You may have to take oral penicillin, but your doctor will advise against it if you are allergic to penicillin. You can take erythromycin in this case. You may take amoxicillin, clarithromycin, azithromycin, clindamycin, or a cephalosporin such as cephalexin. Scarlet fever in adults stays contagious even when there are no symptoms, so it is important to complete the full course of antibiotics.

Note: Adults with scarlet fever should stay off work for at least 1 day after starting treatment. 

Prevent Spreading Scarlet Fever

You have to follow the same prevention strategies that are recommended for all infection diseases. For instance:

  • Limit your social interaction while you are infected.
  • Use tissues or handkerchiefs when sneezing and wash them immediately with warm water and soap.
  • Wash your hands thoroughly as frequently as possible.
  • Never share your drinking glasses and other utensils with others.
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