Childhood Illnesses

Strep A & Scarlet Fever

Strep A, which is short for 'Group A Streptococcus' is the name given to a type of bacteria sometimes found in the throat or on the skin. Strep A can cause mild illnesses like sore throats, scarlet fever or skin infections such as cellulitis or impetigo. These infections are usually treated with antibiotics. Rarely these bacteria can cause a more severe illness.

There are currently increasing rates of Group A strep and scarlet fever in the UK. Scarlet fever, which is caused by the bacteria Group A streptococcus, is usually a mild illness but it is highly infectious. 

Scarlet fever is usually a mild illness that clears up quickly after a course of antibiotics. It usually starts with a sore throat, headache, fever, nausea and vomiting, followed by a rash that feels like sandpaper to the touch.

The rash usually develops after 12 to 48 hours, typically on the chest and stomach first, then rapidly spreading to other parts of the body.

On white skin the rash looks pink or red. On brown and black skin it might be harder to see a change in colour, but you can still feel the sandpaper-like texture of the rash and see the raised bumps. Patients usually have flushed cheeks and can be pale around the mouth. This may be accompanied by a bright red ‘strawberry’ tongue.

Lots of people carry Strep A harmlessly and have no symptoms. It can be passed from person to person by close contact such as kissing or skin to skin contact. Most people who come into contact with Strep A remain well and symptom free, others may get mild throat or skin infections.

The risk of picking up Strep A can be reduced by always washing hands properly. If you are pregnant or undergoing treatments, it is advised to wash hands before and after going to the toilet. It is also important to throw away dirty tissues.

When Should I Get Help?

There are lots of viruses that cause aches, sore throats, colds and coughs. These should get better without needing to see a medical professional. However, children can sometimes develop a bacterial infection on top of a virus and that can make them more unwell.

As a parent or carer, if you feel that your child seems seriously unwell, you should trust your own judgement.

Call NHS 111 or your GP if:

  • your child is getting worse
  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal
  • your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration
  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38°C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39°C or higher
  • your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty
  • your child is very tired or irritable.

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs
  • there are pauses when your child breathes
  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue
  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake.

Taking Medicine

If your child needs medicine to help them get better, they may be given this in liquid or tablet form. Although swallowing medicine in pill form is an important life skill, it can be tricky to learn.

Find out more about taking medicine

Who can Help?

If you are not sure whether your child is seriously unwell, call 111 or your GP practice for advice. Remember that you know your child best. If you think your child is seriously unwell call 999 for an ambulance or go to your nearest A&E department.

You can contact the Healthy Child Programme by calling Just One Number on 0300 300 0123 or texting Parentline on 07520 631590. Our opening hours are 8am-6pm Monday-Friday (excluding bank holidays) and 9am-1pm on Saturdays.

If you are 11-19 you can text ChatHealth on 07480 635060 for confidential advice from one of our team.

The Lullaby Trust - Baby Check App - This app has simple checks that you can do if your baby is ill and helps you think about whether they need to see a doctor or health professional.

You can speak to other Norfolk parents and carers by clicking our online community forum below. 

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