Once considered a very severe childhood disease, scarlet fever is now easy to treat, and the prognosis for recovery is excellent. Physical signs include a very red sore throat and scarlet fever rash, a red rash that appears on the neck, under the arms, or in the groin area, which spreads quickly over the rest of the body.
Physicians commonly treat scarlet fever with oral antibiotics to speed healing and reduce the length of time the infected party is contagious. Those infected should stay home from daycare, school or work; while it primarily occurs in children five–15 years-old, adults are not immune. (1)
It spreads quickly through droplets of nasal fluids or saliva that often accompany a sneeze or a cough. The incubation period is very short; just one to two days after exposure you can expect a fever and sore throat to appear if you have been infected.
What is Scarlet Fever?
In the simplest of terms, scarlet fever rash is caused by the bacteria A streptococcus, the same bacteria that causes strep throat and impetigo. The Group A Streptococcus bacteria can cause a variety of infections from minor to very serious, and potentially deadly. Fortunately, both strep throat and scarlet fever fall on the milder end of the scale. (2)
While complications are relatively rare, if the bacteria spreads to another area of the body, ear infections, abscesses, swollen lymph nodes and sinus infections are possible. In rare cases, potentially life-threatening conditions, rheumatic fever or post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, can occur. In the weeks after a strep infection, watch for chest pain, uncontrollable body movements, edema, dark or reddish urine, and signs of anemia, and call your doctor immediately if any of these signs appear.
Signs & Symptoms
The most common sign of scarlet fever is scarlet fever rash — a bright red rash that has the texture of rough sandpaper. Other signs and symptoms include: (5, 6)
- A very red, painful throat
- A temperature of 101F, or above with or without chills
- Bright red skin on the cheeks, underarms and where skin creases and folds that may resemble a severe sunburn
- A whitish coating on the tongue
- A swollen, red and bumpy tongue that resembles a strawberry
- Swollen glands
- Nausea or vomiting
- Abdominal pain, sometimes severe
- General malaise
- Joint and muscle aches
Causes & Risk Factors
Also known as scarlatina, the cause of scarlet fever is the strep bacteria, found in strep throat and impetigo. While it is most commonly associated with strep throat, scarlet fever can also develop from group A strep infections. It is highly contagious, and it spreads rapidly from person to person, especially when in close quarters.
The Group A strep bacteria live in the nose and the throat and when droplets become airborne from a sneeze or a cough, those in close proximity can become infected. That’s why it is imperative that those infected avoid personal contact and avoid public outings until healed.
Risk factors for scarlet fever include: (7, 8)
- A current strep throat infection.
- Being between five and 15-years old
- Being a parent of a school-aged child
- Living, working or going to school or church in tight quarters with large groups of people
- Spring or fall is when strep bacteria most often circulate
Conventional Scarlet Fever Treatment
Doctors most commonly prescribe oral antibiotics for scarlet fever and strep throat. In some cases, for a patient with a severe infection, a single injection of penicillin G benzathine may be used instead of oral antibiotics.
If you suspect scarlet fever, your physician will diagnose you or your child through a visual inspection of the rash and a culture of the throat. If a sore throat does not accompany the scarlet fever rash, other tests will be ordered as there are other more serious conditions that cause both a rash and a high fever. (9)
10 Natural Remedies for Scarlet Fever Rash
- Gargle with Pink Himalayan Salt
For generations, sore throats have been treated by gargling with warm salt water to relieve pain and inflammation. Science backs up this practice, according to Dr. Sorana Segal-Maurer, MD chief of the Dr. James J. Rahal Jr. Division of Infectious Disease at New York Hospital Queens. As it turns out, gargling with salt water washes the toxins out; be sure to spit out the water, and don’t swallow. (10)
And, instead of table salt, be sure to use pink Himalayan salt which is filled with potassium, magnesium and calcium. This ancient salt, in particular, increases the pH balance in your system, making it more difficult for bacteria to survive. Mix one teaspoon of pink Himalayan salt into one cup of warm water. Gargle and spit repeatedly until the mixture is gone.
- Tea Tree Oil
A study published in the Journal of Hospital Infection found that a four percent tea tree oil ointment and five percent tea tree oil body wash performed better against staph infections than Mupirocin®, a topical antibacterial ointment. (11)
To treat scarlet fever rash, mix one teaspoon of coconut oil to five drops of tea tree oil, and smooth over the areas affected by the scarlet fever rash. Because tea tree oil is strong, and in some people can cause irritation, always dilute it with a carrier oil of at least 1:1.
Please note — tea tree oil is NOT to be ingested. While it is often suggested as a good mouthwash to combat bacteria, toothaches, mouth ulcers and bad breath, it is imperative that you spit out the oil afterward to prevent adverse side effects. (12)
- Manuka Honey
Rich with amino acids, B vitamins and essential minerals, the benefits of Manuka honeyare great. It has been shown to be effective against MRSA, supports a healthy digestive system, helps heal eczema and acne, and fights tooth decay and bad breath. It also has been shown to stop the growth of strep bacteria. (13)
With scarlet fever, applying it directly to the rash can provide relief. But, it is most useful in treating scarlet fever and strep throat when it is swished in the mouth and swallowed. Take a teaspoon, several times each day and swirl it around the mouth. Doing this following gargling with pink Himalayan salt water may provide the best results.
- Coconut Oil
Coconut oil benefits are widely accepted now as medical researchers turn more attention to the unique healing properties of the MCFAs, caprylic acid, lauric acid and capric acid. It is widely used to treat inflammation, to boost the immune system, and to fight bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Researchers have found that the practice of oil pulling reduces Streptococcus mutans and improves overall oral health. (14) While the study was relatively small and used sesame oil, one can assume with the known bacteria-fighting properties in coconut oil; the results would be similar or better.
Of course, coconut oil can also be applied topically, with no adverse side effects, to soothe the scarlet fever rash. Use it as a carrier oil when applying tea tree oil or other essential oils for best results.
- Vitamin C
To fight bacteria and viruses effectively, our immune systems must be strong. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, vitamin C can boost immunity, alleviate dry mouth, and fight some viral conditions. (15)
As a scarlet fever treatment, increase consumption of vitamin C-rich foods including oranges, red bell peppers, kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and if your natural health food store has it, guava, which contains more vitamin C, by far, than a large orange.
- Lemon Essential Oil
When fighting a bacterial infection like scarlet fever, it is imperative that your lymphatic system is operating optimally. It is responsible for cleaning toxins out of your system. Lemon essential oil can improve blood flow and reduce swelling while you are fighting infections. Mix a few drops with a teaspoon of coconut oil and then soothe over the scarlet fever rash to aid in healing while easing the discomfort.
Lemon essential oil is used as a home remedy for strep throat too. To speed healing, add one to two drops of lemon essential oil to a glass of cool water and sip. You may add raw honey for further benefit, or use an herbal tea as a flavor boost. However, don’t put it in hot or boiling water as the heat will adversely affect its healing powers.
- Astragalus Root
Used as an immune system booster in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for thousands of years, astragalus fights inflammation, heals wounds, treats colds and the flu, all while boosting and regulating immune system response. (16) As a scarlet fever treatment, select a high-quality astragalus tincture and follow the recommended dosage on the packaging.
One of the many incredible byproducts from honey bees, propolis can be used topically and internally to treat the symptoms of scarlet fever rash. Propolis is made by the bees to protect their hives from infections that could kill the population. Research indicates that it demonstrates high antibacterial activity against Staphylococcus aureus, Bacillus subtilis, C. Albicans and Streptococcus mutans. (17)
Bee propolis as a treatment for scarlet fever can be taken internally. For adults, 500 milligrams twice a day is recommended; for children, follow the directions on the packaging. Typically, a dose of 250 mg to 375 mg is recommended for children under the age of 12.
- Vitamin D
By now everyone has heard that vitamin D deficiencies have reached pandemic levels, but what many people don’t realize is the long-term health consequences of the deficiency. (18) A study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases states that there is a direct link between vitamin D deficiency and recurring group A streptococcal infections — including strep throat. (19)
The best way to increase levels of vitamin D in your body is to spend more time outdoors in the sunshine without sunscreen for 15–30 minutes each day. For those that can’t get outside during the middle of the day when the sun is directly overhead, it is vital that you consume more vitamin D rich foods.
- Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) has been used to fight infections since the days of Hippocrates (460-377 BC). (20) For those with strep throat, gargling with apple cider vinegar can soothe the pain and discomfort while fighting the bacteria. Mix one teaspoon of ACV and one teaspoon of raw honey into a glass of warm water, and sip slowly. Repeat several times each day until the pain is gone.
To soothe a scarlet fever rash, mix two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar into two cups of cool water. Soak a washcloth in the mixture and apply to the rash. This is believed to help reduce inflammation and irritation by restoring the proper pH levels to your skin.
While rare, long-term complications, some of which are serious, include: (21)
- Post-streptococcal glomerulonephritis, an inflammation of the kidneys
- Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that affects the brain, heart, skin and joints
- Abscesses in the throat
- Skin infections, including impetigo
- Ear infections
- Scarlet fever is a highly contagious infection caused by Group A Streptococcus bacteria, just like strep throat and impetigo. It most commonly affects children between the ages of five and 15-years old. However, anyone who is exposed can become infected.
- Conventional treatment is oral antibiotics, and in some cases, an injection of antibiotics depending on the severity.
- Natural treatments for scarlet fever rash include tea tree oil, lemon essential oil, vitamin C, Manuka honey, astragalus root, bee propolis, vitamin D, apple cider vinegar, coconut oil and pink Himalayan salt.
- The scarlet fever rash is rough, like sandpaper. Strep throat often accompanies scarlet fever; however, if tests for strep throat come back negative, additional tests will be conducted as serious medical conditions including infectious mononucleosis, Kawasaki disease, rubella and toxic shock syndrome.
- Help prevent scarlet fever and other infections caused by streptococcus with good hygiene.