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Scarlet Fever Differential Diagnoses

  • Author: Bahman Sotoodian, MD; Chief Editor: William D James, MD  more...
 
Updated: Mar 07, 2016
 
 

Diagnostic Considerations

The overwhelming majority of cases of scarlet fever are caused by group A beta-hemolytic streptococci (GABHS). Other bacteria can cause a pharyngitis and similar rash, such as Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Arcanobacterium haemolyticum, and Clostridium species.[13] The differential diagnosis includes other causes of fever accompanied by erythematous eruptions. Recurrent cases of scarlet fever have been reported from reinfection with strains unrelated to Streptococcus pyogenes.[14]

The cutaneous eruption of fifth disease may be confused with that of scarlet fever, but the affected child is usually well and afebrile.

Rubella and rubeola may appear similar, but the presence of conjunctivitis, purulent rhinitis, and cough are helpful clues to the diagnosis of rubeola. In addition, the eruption of rubeola usually begins behind the ears and on the scalp and forehead, not on the torso. Rubella typically begins on the head and face.

Other viral exanthemata, such as those caused by Epstein-Barr virus (infectious mononucleosis), enterovirus, HIV infection, and Streptobacillus moniliformis infection (rat bite fever), may also have to be considered.

Other bacteria-associated syndromes with cutaneous eruptions (eg, toxic shock syndrome, secondary syphilis) may appear similar to scarlet fever, but the presence of vasomotor instability and ischemic necrosis of digits in the former and palmoplantar involvement with positive serology in the latter should suffice to differentiate them from scarlet fever.

Noninfectious diseases that should be considered include Kawasaki disease, acute lupus erythematosus, morbilliform drug eruption, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

Other problems to be considered include the following:

  • Arcanobacterium haemolyticum
  • Atropine toxicity
  • Enteroviral infection and nonspecific viral infection
  • Fifth disease
  • Epstein-Barr virus (infectious mononucleosis)
  • HIV infection
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • Pediatric cellulitis
  • Plant allergic reactions
  • Roseola
  • S moniliformis infection (rat bite fever)
  • Severe sunburn
  • Viral exanthema
  • Guttate psoriasis: Streptococcal infection is known to precipitate guttate psoriasis and may also cause scarlet fever. The 2 are easily distinguished, as the flexural erythema with sandpaperlike texture and petechiae of scarlet fever are very different from the disseminated, round, erythematous lesions with silver scale of guttate psoriasis.

Differential Diagnoses

 
 
Contributor Information and Disclosures
Author

Bahman Sotoodian, MD Resident Physician, Department of Dermatology, University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry, Canada

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Coauthor(s)

Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC Clinical Professor of Medicine, Division of Dermatology and Cutaneous Sciences, Director of Dermatology Residency Program, University of Alberta Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry

Jaggi Rao, MD, FRCPC is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for Laser Medicine and Surgery, Canadian Medical Association, Pacific Dermatologic Association, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, Canadian Medical Protective Association, Canadian Dermatology Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

William D James, MD Paul R Gross Professor of Dermatology, Vice-Chairman, Residency Program Director, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

William D James, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

Edward J Zabawski, Jr, DO Medical and Surgical Dermatology

Edward J Zabawski, Jr, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American Osteopathic Association, New England Dermatological Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Acknowledgements

Jerry Balentine, DO Professor and Chair of Emergency Medicine, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine; Executive Vice President, St Barnabas Hospital

Jerry Balentine, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians, American College of Physician Executives, American Osteopathic Association, and New York Academy of Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Peter Bloomfield, MD, MPH Clinical Instructor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Pamela L Dyne, MD Professor of Clinical Medicine/Emergency Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine; Attending Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Olive View-UCLA Medical Center

Pamela L Dyne, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Craig A Elmets, MD Professor and Chair, Department of Dermatology, Director, UAB Skin Diseases Research Center, University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine

Craig A Elmets, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Association of Immunologists, American College of Physicians, American Federation for Medical Research, and Society for Investigative Dermatology

Disclosure: Palomar Medical Technologies Stock None; Astellas Consulting fee Review panel membership; Massachusetts Medical Society Salary Employment; Abbott Laboratories Grant/research funds Independent contractor; UpToDate Salary Employment; Biogen Grant/research funds Independent contractor; Clinuvel Independent contractor; Covan Basilea Pharmaceutical Grant/research funds Independent contractor; ISDIN None Consulting; TenX BIopharma Grant/research funds Independent contractor

Daniel P Lombardi, DO Clinical Assistant Professor, New York College of Osteopathic Medicine; Attending Physician, Associate Department Director and Program Director, Department of Emergency Medicine, St Barnabas Hospital

Daniel P Lombardi, DO is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians, and American Osteopathic Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Robert E O'Connor, MD, MPH Professor and Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Virginia Health System

Robert E O'Connor, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Physician Executives, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, Medical Society of Delaware, National Association of EMS Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, and Wilderness Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Joseph A Salomone III, MD Associate Professor and Attending Staff, Truman Medical Centers, University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Medicine; EMS Medical Director, Kansas City, Missouri

Joseph A Salomone III, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, National Association of EMS Physicians, and Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Reference Salary Employment

Richard P Vinson, MD Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Paul L Foster School of Medicine; Consulting Staff, Mountain View Dermatology, PA

Richard P Vinson, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, Association of Military Dermatologists, Texas Dermatological Society, and Texas Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Eric L Weiss, MD, DTM&H Medical Director, Office of Service Continuity and Disaster Planning, Fellowship Director, Stanford University Medical Center Disaster Medicine Fellowship, Chairman, SUMC and LPCH Bioterrorism and Emergency Preparedness Task Force, Clinical Associate Progressor, Department of Surgery (Emergency Medicine), Stanford University Medical Center

Eric L Weiss, MD, DTM&H is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, American Medical Association, American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Southeastern Surgical Congress, Southern Association for Oncology, Southern Clinical Neurological Society, and Wilderness Medical Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Garry Wilkes, MBBS, FACEM Director of Emergency Medicine, Calvary Hospital, Canberra, ACT; Adjunct Associate Professor, Edith Cowan University, Western Australia

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Grace M Young, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland Medical Center

Grace M Young, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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The exudative pharyngitis typical of scarlet fever. Although the tongue is somewhat out of focus, the whitish coating observed early in scarlet fever is visible.
 
 
 
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