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Is Scarlet Fever Contagious?

Gauri Huddar
Scarlet fever is characterized by a pinkish-red rash over a certain patch or area of the body, that quickly spreads to other areas. How contagious is scarlet fever? Read this story to find out.
Outbreaks of scarlet fever have reduced considerably over the last few decades, and now, most of the cases of scarlet fever reported are not severe and can be treated within a couple of weeks, at the most. The more severe cases are becoming rarer. What exactly is this scarlet fever? How is it caused? And is it contagious? The following paragraphs will solve these doubts.

Scarlet Fever - An Overview

Scarlet fever was a really serious disease till just a few decades ago, when the first preliminary vaccine was developed in 1924, by a husband-wife duo - Gladys and George Dick. Then came penicillin in the 1940s.
Till then there were many fatalities due to this disease. There have been quite a few epidemics of scarlet fever throughout history, with some of the worst epidemics being recorded between 1735-1740 in New England, 1764 in Boston, 1787 in Maine, 1861-1862 in Fredericksburg, and 1908 in New York.
This disease, caused by the streptococcal bacteria, is contagious from the time one contracts it, to 24 hours after the treatment has started. Its symptoms include-
  • sore throat
  • swollen red tongue
  • fever
  • chills
  • pinkish-red rash all over the body
  • muscle aches
  • abdominal aches
  • headaches
Scarlet fever is common in children, but rare in adults. The treatment for scarlet fever is generally antibiotic, which can cure the fever in a week's time, though it still takes around 3 - 4 weeks for the rash to disappear completely.

Is Scarlet Fever Contagious?

Scarlet fever is highly contagious! As soon as a person contracts it, he becomes contagious to those around him. The bacteria causing it reside in the throat, mouth, nose, or on the skin of the infected person. It usually spreads through water droplets, expelled by the infected person when he coughs or sneezes, as well as through his saliva and mucus.
When dealing or interacting with a person suffering from it, it is best to wear a mask so that you do not breathe in the water droplets. Also, avoid using the same utensils as the infected person, to avoid contracting the illness by coming in contact with his saliva.
The infected person may take anywhere between 2 - 6 days to develop the fever. Once the treatment starts, the person is still considered contagious for the next 24 hours, after which the fever is brought under control, and is no more contagious.
However, if treatment is not sought, the person can remain contagious for 2 - 3 weeks or even more, depending on whether he has a mild or severe case of the fever.
After treatment has begun, the patient is advised to avoid visiting public areas such as gardens, schools, malls, restaurants, etc., where he will come in contact with other people, and possibly spread the disease. If the case is severe, the patient may have to be quarantined for a couple of days.
Antibiotics act quickly to make the infection noncontagious. However, the patient has to be careful till the day after his treatment has started, and avoid contact with other people as much as possible. The course of antibiotics has to be completed, even though the fever may start to subside in just a day or two.
Stopping the course midway may cause a relapse. When dealing with other people (if absolutely necessary) while still contagious, the patient must follow some precautions like sneezing and coughing into a handkerchief, and using a separate set of utensils, so that he does not infect others.
Simple measures will help in avoiding the spread of the bacteria causing scarlet fever, and if these are followed properly, then the chances of contracting the illness from someone are reduced greatly. Make sure the patient gets proper medical attention as soon as possible after the symptoms show, so that he is contagious for a lesser amount of time, and recovers faster.