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January 12, 2009

Scarlet Fever

Scarlet_fever I noticed nothing when I picked up my son Randy from school that afternoon.  He had to go to the doctor’s office to get some stitches removed from a previous injury, and he was a little nervous about it.  The school nurse had called me earlier -- Randy had complained that his neck was “itchy” -- but he didn’t have a fever.  The nurse and I concluded over the phone that he would be fine staying in school that day.

We took the M7 bus from Randy’s school at 84th Street and Columbus Avenue, all the way uptown to Harlem Hospital on Lenox Avenue and 135th Street.  Randy was a little listless on the bus – in fact, he slept on my lap the entire bus ride.  I figured a boy had a right to be tired after a long day of school. 

The hospital clinic was closed, so we had to go to the pediatric ER.  Like the ERs of many urban hospitals, this one was full of children who probably would have been better served under the regular care of private physicians. We were there only because of the stitches.  I was grateful for health insurance and not having to depend on an emergency room for overall health care.  Randy was relatively patient throughout the wait, mostly because he continued to sleep on my lap.

Eventually, we saw a doctor, a kindly, older African gentleman.  I explained that we were there to get Randy’s stitches removed, but he seemed to have another agenda.

“How long has he had that rash?”

I looked at my son, who was reclining on the examining table.  “What rash?”

I took a closer look and noticed that my son’s skin was covered with fine bumps all over, even on his tummy and back. When had that happened?

The doctor took out an ear thermometer and took Randy’s temperature.  “He has a fever of 102o,” the doctor said.

“Really?”  I was starting to feel like a really, really bad mother.

“Has he complained of a sore throat?”

“Well, at school, he said his neck was ‘itchy.’”

The doctor nodded and started scribbling on a piece of paper.  I figured it was a note to call Child Protective Services.  I started talking like a suspect on Law and Order.

“He seemed fine at school today.  He went down to the school nurse and he didn’t have a fever at school.  The nurse thought he was okay. She never mentioned a rash.  I hadn’t seen that rash before just now.”

The doctor just ignored my ramblings.  He looked at Randy’s mouth and throat, and then turned to me. “Ma’am, I believe your son has scarlet fever.”

Scarlet fever? “Scarlet fever? What? Who gets that?”

He chuckled softly.  “The bacteria is out there in the atmosphere in New York City.  And every year, a few children contract it.”

“Is it treatable?”

“Yes, with antibiotics.  Is he allergic to penicillin?”


The doctor scribbled some more, and then told me that Randy exhibited all of the classic symptoms: high fever, a rash including a “strawberry tongue,” and a sore throat.  I wanted to question his reasoning, but he seemed quite confident.  He assured me that my son would be fine.  Scarlet fever can be quite a dangerous disease if left untreated, but Randy was diagnosed the day he became symptomatic. Randy would fully recover, although he would have to miss the rest of the week at school.

Another doctor took care of Randy’s stitches, we got a prescription for amoxicillin, and about thirty minutes later, we were on our way home.

I gave Randy his first dose of amoxicillin shortly after we got home, and the change was immediate.  His energy level rose substantially (not a great thing to have happen right at bedtime!).  I was still pretty freaked out by the diagnosis, and after he went to bed, I looked up “scarlet fever” on a few medical websites, confirming what the doctor had told me.

I made sure to notify the school of Randy’s diagnosis, and sure enough, another little girl in his class was treated for scarlet fever that week.  I took the week off work because, as trustworthy and reliable as my babysitter is, there are some things you want and need to do for your children yourself. 

The week off was great for me as well.  I had been battling a cold for two weeks, and the time out of the office helped me recuperate. Randy was pretty much over it after the second full day of medicine, so we got to spend some great, and much-needed, mother-son time together. Fortunately, we survived scarlet fever.

This is an original post to NYC Moms Blog.


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