Children's diseases: scarlet fever and glandular fever

18 May 2014

A child who suddenly becomes feverish will leave most mothers panic-stricken. But when should you rush them to the doctor, and when is it just another ordinary childhood complaint? We tell you everything you need to know about scarlet fever and glandular fever in this, our third article in a series dealing with children’s illnesses.

A child who suddenly becomes feverish will leave most mothers panic-stricken. But when should you rush them to the doctor, and when is it just another ordinary childhood complaint? We tell you everything you need to know about scarlet fever and glandular fever in this, our third article in a series dealing with children’s illnesses.

Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever is caused by certain forms of the streptococcus bacteria. It usually strikes children younger than four.

The child will usually complain of a sore throat, headache and stomach ache, and will have a high fever.

A rash appears after two to three days, first in the armpits and groin and then over the limbs and the rest of the body.

Folds in the skin are a darker red. The cheeks are red and there’s paleness around the mouth. The tongue is initially covered in a layer of white, which later turns strawberry red.

The glands in the neck are sensitive and swollen.

Without treatment the fever lessens after about 10 days. The face, and especially the hands and feet, peel lightly. An antibiotic is necessary to eradicate infection, and the first choice is penicillin by injection, orally or – in serious cases – intravenously.

A child who’s allergic to penicillin must be given Erythromysin. Paracetamol relieves the sore throat and reduces fever.

Scarlet fever can be a dangerous illness, even though it’s regarded as less serious these days. Possible complications include tonsillitis, sinusitis and ear infection, kidney infection and rheumatic fever.

The affected child must be kept away from others until the rash disappears.

A sore throat followed by a rash and a tongue that’s first white then strawberry red are typical symptoms of scarlet fever.

Did you know? A child with scarlet fever can develop rheumatic fever.

Glandular fever (infectious mononucleosis)

This strikes older children – it’s seldom found in children under 10. A serious throat infection and fever are the most common symptoms.

In most cases it involves a general enlargement of lymph glands in the neck, armpits, and groin. Other possible symptoms are swelling around the eyes, stomach ache (caused by swelling of the spleen and liver) and, in rare cases, jaundice.

About 10 per cent of children get a rash. Those treated with the antibiotic Ampicillin or one of its variants will get an extensive general rash. There’s no specific treatment, and antibiotics shouldn’t be prescribed. That’s why Ampicillin should never just be given to a child with a sore throat in case they have glandular fever.

It’s caused by the Epstein-Barr virus. This virus only causes nonserious, unspecified illnesses in younger children – or there won’t be any symptoms at all.

Although generally nonserious, it’s an unpredictable illness with a number of possible complications.

Consult a doctor if you suspect the condition.

Swollen glands in the neck, armpits and groin, sore throat and fever are the most important first symptoms of glandular fever.

Important

Also read the first article in our series about what to do when your child is feverish, and when you definitely have to consult a doctor.

Other childhood diseases:

  • Click here for more about measles and baby measles.
  • Click here for more about German measles and slapped cheek disease.
  • Click here for more about Kawasaki disease and meningococcal infection.
  • Click here for more about shingles and chicken pox.
  • Click here for more about  fever blisters and hand, foot and mouth disease.

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