Public health: Young children most at risk for scarlet fever

Students at Eramosa Public School were sent home with a Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Public Health advisory about scarlet fever on April 16.

The notice stated there were “two physician-confirmed cases of scarlet fever reported at Eramosa Public School” and explained what the infection is, the signs and symptoms, and other information for parents.

Scarlet fever is an infection caused by group A Streptococcus (strep). The bacteria in this infection produces a toxin or poison that causes the rash.

However, not all children are sensitive to the same toxins so not all children will develop the scarlet fever rash. The infection is now treated with an antibiotic.

Janice Walters, manager for control of infectious diseases at WDGPH, said scarlet fever isn’t a reportable disease so the school, parents and physicians aren’t obligated to report it.

“In this case … because there were two in a short period of time the school did want to send out some information to parents just to give them a heads up,” Walters said.

“Often the way public health works with the school is if they get conditions in the school that they think might benefit the parents to be aware of looking for symptoms, they will call our outbreak reporting line and ask public health to provide what we call a parent advisory.”

Walters said scarlet fever is more common in school-aged children than adults but is treatable and once an individual has the disease they likely won’t develop it again.

She explained scarlet fever is one of the reactions to group A strep and that not everyone will have the same reaction to toxins associated with the infection.

“If parents are aware of it they may actually take their child to see the physician if there’s group A strep causing strep throat or what we call tonsillitis in the school and if they get started on treatment then they’re unlikely also to develop scarlet fever,” Walters said.

Scarlet fever is a risk for all children in the school environment.

“It is droplet spread and droplet spread can infect other kids when there’s coughing and sneezing and yelling, singing, anything that causes forceful expiration of droplets but younger children are more at risk just because they tend to play closer together.”

Scarlet fever will start with a sore throat, swollen glands in the neck, headache, tiredness, vomiting, fever and chills. It will progress to a red rash that feels like sandpaper, usually on the neck and face and spreading to the back, chest and groin area. By day six the rash should fade but skin may peel, the face will be flushed and area around the lips and possibly a white coating on the tongue.