Roseola: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

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Roseola is a common childhood illness caused by the human herpes virus. It is usually mild and can cause fever, runny nose, irritability, fatigue, and rash. Treatment includes rest, hydration, and medications to reduce fever.Roseola typically affects children aged 6 months. Healthcare professionals can diagnose roseola with a physical exam, and testing is usually not necessary. Washing your hands regularly and thoroughly can help prevent the spread of roseola.

This article will discuss the causes of roseola, its symptoms, how to treat it, and what recovery looks like.

What are the causes of roseola?

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Infection with types 6 or 7 of the human herpes virus causes roseola. This illness, also called roseola infantum, is responsible for 10–45% of fevers in infants.

The virus peaks in the spring and fall seasons. It can spread through contact with saliva and is more common in children with older siblings.

What does roseola look like?

Roseola rash typically appears as pink or red raised spots that are each around 2–5 mm in diameter.

The rash usually starts on the trunk and spreads to the extremities, neck, and face.

What are the symptoms of roseola?

The first symptom of roseola is usually a fever between 101°F and 105°F (38.3°C and 40.6°C), lasting 3–5 days. Your child may then develop other symptoms, including:

Around days 3–5 of the illness, the fever usually fades, and a rash starts to develop. The rash typically looks like pink or raised spots around 2–5 millimeters in diameter. There may be a halo of pale skin around the spots, and they generally do not itch or hurt.

The rash usually starts on the trunk and spreads to the neck, arms, legs, and face. It typically only lasts a few days.

How do doctors diagnose roseola?

Doctors usually diagnose roseola through a physical examination and a medical history evaluation. Most of the time, further testing is unnecessary.

If doctors suspect another illness, they may order tests to rule out other conditions.

What are the treatments for roseola?

There is no specific medical treatment for roseola, and no vaccination is available. Most of the time, roseola is mild and goes away on its own.

Doctors typically recommend rest, hydration, and sometimes nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) for fever. Be sure to follow your doctor’s instructions for proper NSAID dosages.

Because the rash generally does not itch or hurt, you should not need to apply any lotions or creams.

What is the outlook for children with roseola?

The outlook for children with roseola is generally very good. Most children recover from roseola with no issues, and complications are rare.

After the illness clears up, the virus remains in the body in an inactive state. Repeat cases of roseola are very uncommon. Children who are immunocompromised due to cancer or who have undergone organ transplants may be at a higher risk of virus reactivation.

There are a few ways to help prevent the spread of roseola:

  • Keep your child away from other children who appear to be sick or are running fevers.
  • If your child is sick with a fever, keep them home and away from other children and adults.
  • The virus passes through contact with saliva, so regular and thorough handwashing is key to preventing the spread.

When should you see a doctor for roseola?

You should contact a doctor if your child has had a fever of 102°F (38.9°C) for 24 hours, even if there are no other symptoms.

Although roseola is typically a mild illness, there are times when the fever can cause febrile seizures. Symptoms of a febrile seizure are:

  • loss of consciousness
  • twitching or jerking movements of the legs, arms, or face for 2–3 minutes
  • urinating or defecting while unconscious
  • irritability

These seizures are typically brief and not dangerous. However, it is important to have your child examined by a healthcare professional to rule out other conditions.

Other frequently asked questions

Here are a few commonly asked questions about roseola. The answers have been medically reviewed by Dr. Karen Richardson Gill.

How long is roseola contagious?

Roseola is contagious until your child’s fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. Keep your child away from others during their infectious time, and frequently wash your hands while caring for them.

Adults rarely get roseola. Childhood infection with roseola confers immunity. When the virus does reactivate, it is usually because someone has a weakened immune system or has had an organ transplant.

Should I put lotion on roseola?

The roseola rash does not hurt or itch. Therefore, it is generally not necessary to put lotion on the rash.

Roseola is a common and mild childhood viral infection that causes fever, respiratory symptoms, fatigue, and a rash. Typically, your child will not require any treatment other than rest, adequate hydration, and NSAIDs to relieve the fever.

In some cases, the fever from roseola can cause febrile seizures. A healthcare professional should evaluate your child to rule out any other conditions if this occurs.

Talk with your doctor if your child is experiencing symptoms consistent with roseola.

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