What Is Roseola, and What Are the Symptoms?

Roseola is a common and generally mild viral illness that can affect babies and toddlers. It’s sometimes called sixth disease or roseola infantum, and it’s usually not something you need to worry too much about. 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. Read on to find out more about what roseola is, to learn the signs and symptoms, and for some tips that will help you assess when it may be a good idea to contact your healthcare provider.

What Is Roseola?

Roseola is a viral infection caused by two common strains of the human herpes virus. Older infants between 6 and 15 months are at the greatest risk of contracting roseola because they have not yet built up antibodies that help fight viruses, but it can commonly affect children up to age 2. (Newborns still retain antibodies they received in uterus from mom.) 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.

Signs and Symptoms of Roseola

If your child has been infected, it can take about one to two weeks for visible signs to appear. Though it's possible that no symptoms will appear at all, some symptoms that could appear might include:

  • Fever. A sudden, high fever, which is often higher than 39.4 degrees C. Roseola fever usually lasts about three to five days.

  • Rash. A rash may appear after the fever subsides. What does roseola look like? The rash looks like many small, flat, pink spots or patches. Sometimes the spots may be raised. You may notice a white ring around some of the spots. The rash may start on your child’s chest, back, and abdomen, and it can then spread to the neck and arms. Sometimes it may spread to the legs or face. Though it may look a little scary, the rash isn't itchy or uncomfortable. You may be wondering: How long does a roseola rash last? Well, it can last several hours or even up to a few days. No additional roseola rash treatment is generally recommended, as it will clear up on its own.

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

  • Mildly sore throat

  • Runny nose

  • Cough

  • Irritability

  • Mild diarrhoea

  • Decreased appetite

  • Swollen eyelids.

When to Consult Your Healthcare Provider and Treatment Options

Roseola can disappear on its own, but consult your doctor if your child:

  • Has a fever of 38.9 degrees C or higher for 24 hours

  • Has a fever that lasts more than seven days

  • Has a rash that persists beyond three days

  • Feels lethargic

  • Won’t drink water, formula, or breastfeed

  • Has a convulsion (febrile seizure) as a result of a spiking fever (remember, this is rare, but if this occurs, contact your healthcare provider right away)

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

In most cases roseola will resolve within a week, but in the meantime, keep your child comfortable with home treatments. Make sure he gets lots of rest and plenty of fluids. Roseola treatments that your healthcare provider may recommend include an over-the-counter drug, such as acetaminophen, to help reduce the fever, or an antiviral medication.

Is Roseola Contagious?

Roseola is contagious even if no rash is present. It can spread through saliva (for example, sharing a cup with someone who is infected) or through respiratory droplets (via coughs or sneezes). You may be wondering: When is roseola contagious? The contagious period is most likely during the fever stage.

To try to help prevent your child getting roseola, keep him away from people you know are infected. If your child has come in contact with someone you know has it, watch for signs of the virus. Keep in mind that your child may have been exposed without you knowing. Remember, although it’s never pleasant to be sick, roseola is something many children will catch.

Adults can get roseola, too. In healthy adults, it tends to be mild, but they can still pass it on to children. That’s why if anyone in your home has it, make sure all family members wash their hands regularly to help prevent it from spreading.

Roseola is generally not a cause for concern. It’s a common childhood sickness, and your child will likely recover from roseola soon, so allow your child to rest up and take it easy.

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