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What causes scarlet fever and how does it spread?

Answered by Dr Ellie Cannon
8th September 2015
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Scarlet fever is caused by specific strains of streptococcus bacteria. It usually occurs after a child has had a throat infection (often referred to as ‘strep throat’) or a skin infection such as impetigo. The bacteria make toxins (poisons) which then may cause the distinctive rash to appear.

Scarlet fever is very contagious and can be caught in a number of ways, including:

  • breathing in bacteria from an infected person’s coughs and sneezes
  • being in contact with the skin of a person who has a streptococcal skin infection
  • using contaminated fabrics and surfaces such as towels, clothes and bed linen

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