Roseola rash in babies

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Roseola is a common and generally mild viral infection that typically affects babies and toddlers. It’s sometimes called sixth disease, exanthem subitum, or roseola infantum, and it’s usually not something you need to worry too much about because it typically resolves by itself within a week or so. Roseola typically causes a few days of fever, which is sometimes followed by a rash, but in mild cases, you may not notice any symptoms at all. Some of the symptoms, like the fever, may require at-home treatment so that your child feels more comfortable. Read on to find out more about what roseola is, to learn the signs and symptoms, and for information on when to contact your baby’s healthcare provider.

What Is Roseola?

Roseola is a viral infection caused by two common strains of the human herpes virus. Children between 6 months and 2 years old have the highest risk of contracting roseola, and the most common age for contracting roseola is between 6 and 15 months. Infants are immune to roseola for a period because of the antibodies they’ve received from their mothers while in the womb. One bout of roseola in childhood may provide some immunity; repeat cases may occur, but are uncommon. It’s good to know that if your child comes down with roseola, it’s likely that he’ll be back to normal within a week or so.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Roseola?

It can take between 7 and 14 days for the visible signs of roseola to appear after the initial point of infection. Symptoms of roseola can include:

  • Fever. Your little one might get a sudden, high fever of somewhere between 38.9 and 40.6 degrees Celsius. (Use a baby thermometer to check your child’s fever accurately.) The fever associated with roseola usually lasts about three to seven days

  • Rash. A non-itchy rash may appear after the fever subsides. The rash consists of many small, flat pink spots or patches. Sometimes the spots may be raised or have a white ring around them. The rash may start on your child’s chest, back, and abdomen, before spreading to her neck and arms. Sometimes it may spread to her legs or face as well

  • Swollen glands in the neck

  • Mildly sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Cough

  • Irritability

  • Sleepiness

  • Mild diarrhea

  • Decreased appetite

  • Swollen or droopy eyelids.

How Long Does Roseola Last?

The fever associated with roseola can last between three and seven days. Once the fever is over, a rash may develop and then fade after 24 hours.

How Long Is Roseola Contagious?

Roseola is contagious up until your baby’s fever is gone and the rash has appeared. That also means you won’t know if your child has roseola based on his fever alone. If your child hasn’t had a fever in 24 hours, but still has some rashes, he is no longer contagious and may safely return to daycare or preschool.

How Is Roseola Diagnosed?

Since roseola symptoms are very similar to those of many other common childhood illnesses, roseola may be difficult for your child’s healthcare provider to diagnose at first. Your baby’s healthcare provider may wait and see if the roseola rash appears, particularly if all other conditions such as the common cold, ear infection, and strep throat have been ruled out to help make a diagnosis. If it’s not a roseola rash, it may be one of many other baby rashes.

If the fever lasts, and/or your child has worsening symptoms (such as the ones listed here), your child’s provider may order a blood count, urine analysis, or another test to check for roseola.

How Is Roseola Treated?

In most cases, roseola will go away within a week without professional medical treatment. While your child has a fever, keep her comfortable by dressing her in lightweight clothing. Make sure she gets lots of rest and plenty of fluids. To treat your baby’s fever, your healthcare provider may suggest giving her acetaminophen or ibuprofen (with a dose that is correct for her age and weight). Do not give your child aspirin, as it may lead to a serious condition called Reye’s syndrome. The rash associated with roseola will usually go away on its own without treatment within a day or so.

If your baby has a weakened immune system, her healthcare provider may prescribe an antiviral medication.

When Should You Consult Your Baby’s Healthcare Provider?

Roseola usually goes away on its own, but consult your child’s healthcare provider if your child

  • has a fever of 38.9 degrees Celsius or higher for more than 24 hours

  • has been diagnosed with roseola and the fever lasts more than seven days

  • has a rash that doesn’t go away after three days

  • feels lethargic

  • won’t drink water, formula, or breastfeed

  • has a convulsion (febrile seizure) as a result of a spiking fever (this is quite rare—only happening in about 10 to 15 percent of children with roseola)

  • has a weaker immune system, placing him at greater risk of complications relating to the fever.

How Does Your Baby Get Roseola?

Your child can contract roseola from an infected individual through respiratory secretions or saliva from

  • talking

  • sneezing

  • coughing

  • touching the same surface as the infected person and then touching her mouth or nose.

Can Roseola Be Prevented?

To help prevent your child getting roseola, keep him away from anyone who is infected. If your child has come in contact with someone who has it, watch for signs of the virus. If your child has roseola, it’s a good idea to keep him away from other children to prevent spreading the disease. This may mean keeping him home from daycare or school. If someone in your household has roseola, make sure that everyone practices frequent hand-washing so that it isn’t spread.

Can Adults Get Roseola?

Adults can get roseola, too. In healthy adults, it tends to be mild. Because adults can pass roseola on to children, if an adult in your home has it, all family members should wash their hands regularly to help prevent it from spreading.

Roseola is generally not a cause for concern. It’s a common illness in children, and your child will likely recover from roseola with time. Allow your child to rest up and take it easy, and contact your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. Although it’s never pleasant to be sick, roseola is something many children will catch before they enter kindergarten. With medical treatment or simply a little at-home TLC, your little one will be back to normal soon enough.

How We Wrote This Article

The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. You can find a full list of sources used for this article below. The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.

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