Scarlet fever, if left untreated, can cause serious long-term complications including rheumatic fever, kidney disease, pneumonia, arthritis, throat abscesses, ear infections and skin infections, according to Healthline. These complications sometimes result in a lifelong disability, such as when rheumatic fever damages the heart. When appropriately treated with antibiotics, however, scarlet fever rarely causes long-term complications.
Also called scarlatina, scarlet fever is caused by a particular family of bacteria that also causes strep throat, explains Healthline. Typically, a scarlet fever infection develops after a strep throat infection. The telltale sign of scarlet fever is a distinctive bright red rash that feels like sandpaper that appears first on the chest or stomach before spreading to the rest of the body. Other symptoms include a high fever, swollen throat glands, an extremely sore throat and strawberry tongue, or a white tongue with raised red dots.
A throat culture definitively diagnoses scarlet fever, and a doctor prescribes a course of antibiotics to cure the infection. Skin where the rash occurs frequently peels off as the infection subsides, and full recovery can take up to two weeks. Most commonly, scarlet fever affects children from the ages of 5 to 15. MedicineNet explains that in the days before antibiotics, scarlet fever had a mortality rate of 15 to 20 percent.