Scarlet fever, common in kids, is caused by a bacterial infection (either strep throat or a skin infection).
The bacteria that cause scarlet fever sometimes produce a toxin (poison) that causes a rash in people who are sensitive to it. This red, bumpy rash spreads over most of the body and is what gives scarlet fever its name. It usually resembles a bad sunburn with tiny bumps and it may itch.
The rash usually starts to fade after about 6 days, but then may peel for several weeks until the skin is healed. Antibiotics are the main treatment for scarlet fever, and help most kids feel better quickly.
Kids with scarlet fever are contagious until they have taken antibiotics for 24 hours and should be kept at home during this time.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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