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Health A-Z

Medical Content Created by the Faculty of the
Harvard Medical School

What Is It?

Scarlet fever is an infection caused by Group A Streptococcus ("strep") bacteria. It causes a finely textured rash that can appear like sandpaper along with other symptoms. It usually occurs after a strep infection of the throat (strep pharyngitis, or strep throat), but occasionally after a strep skin infection. The rash of scarlet fever is caused by a toxin that the strep bacteria produce.

Scarlet fever once was common among children ages 2 to 10, but now it is relatively rare. The reason for this remains a mystery, especially because there has been no decrease in the number of cases of strep throat or strep skin infections.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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