Scarlet fever making rounds in Prince Edward Island

Teresa Wright
Published on January 21, 2014
Scarlet fever

Scarlet fever appears to be making the rounds in P.E.I.

But don't panic, it's not as scary as it sounds.

The illness is actually a manifestation of a strep infection. Parents have reported to The Guardian an official with the new 811 telehealth line has told them anecdotally that scarlet fever is going around in P.E.I.

Dr. Lamont Sweet, P.E.I.'s deputy chief public health officer, said Monday the strep infection only manifests as scarlet fever when it is the first time a person has contracted the illness.

“Scarlet fever is your first attack of strep throat,” he said.

“Usually it has a red rash, a fever, swollen glands in the neck and then the tongue is usually involved with either a white coating or raised bumps in which case it can be quite red and they call it a strawberry tongue.”

The red, or scarlet, rash is caused by a substance released into the blood from bacteria from the infection.

The good news is, after you've had this rash once, your body becomes immune to it in future. So, if you contract strep throat again, it will not be accompanied by the scarlet rash.

The Health Department does not track cases of strep throat in P.E.I. as it is a common illness that is easily treated with antibiotics.

The reason it has a bad reputation is because strep throat, or scarlet fever, used to be accompanied by rheumatic fever. This would add kidney complications along with a strep infection's other symptoms, which often made it more severe.

“Strep has changed in that we almost never hear of rheumatic fever,” Sweet said.

“No one really knows too much about why this happened. Fortunately the strep has been less likely to cause trouble . . . we've just not been getting the major complications that we used to get.”