What is roseola?

Roseola is a viral illness that mostly affects children between the ages of six months and two years. It is rare after age four.

The most distinctive features of roseola are the sudden appearance of a high fever and then the onset of a rash. The fever can run from 102 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit and last from three to seven days.

When the fever breaks (goes away) a rash will appear on your child’s body. The rash may last a few hours to a few days and signals the end of the illness. Your child should fully recover from roseola.

What causes roseola?

The childhood illness is caused by the human herpes virus (HHV) type 6. Roseola is contagious (can be spread from one person to another). It spreads through tiny drops of fluid when an infected person talks, coughs, or sneezes. Someone who has not yet developed symptoms often spreads the infection as the incubation period takes 14 days.

What are the symptoms of roseola?

In most cases, a child with roseola first develops a mild upper-respiratory illness, followed by the high fever. During this time your child’s symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Mild cough
  • Weak appetite
  • Irritability or fussiness
  • Swollen glands (possibly)
  • Sudden fever, which often goes above 103º F and may last from 3 to 7 days

Children may be irritable or fussy during the fever phase of roseola. However many kids behave almost normally despite high temperatures.

As the high fever ends, a rash will appear on your child’s body. Some things to know about the roseola rash:

  • The rash starts on the child’s torso and may spread to the neck, face, arms, and legs.
  • It is made up of flat or raised pinkish red spots.
  • The spots turn white when touched.
  • Individual spots may have lighter areas or “halos” around them.

How is roseola treated?

If your child has a fever of 102 degrees or above for 24 hours, call your doctor even if there are no other symptoms. Your doctor will take a history from you and give your child a physical exam if necessary to find out what is making him or her sick.

In most cases roseola will go away on its own and professional treatment is not needed. Since it is a virus, antibiotics are not used.

As with most viral infections, children may return to normal routine/childcare when they are free of fever for 24 hours or more and major symptoms have disappeared. The roseola rash by itself is not considered infectious and does not pose a risk to others.

How can I help my child feel better?

You can do these things to help your child feel better:

  • Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce the high fever. Do not give aspirin to a child with a viral illness.
  • Give your child a sponge bath using a towel or sponge soaked in lukewarm water to make him or her more comfortable.
  • To avoid dehydration, have your child drink clear fluid such as water with ice chips, children’s electrolyte solutions, flat sodas like ginger ale (stir room-temperature soda until the fizz disappears), or clear broth.

Call your doctor if your child seems too sleepy, is not drinking fluids, or if you cannot keep the fever down.

Be aware that a quickly rising fever may cause convulsions or a seizure. Get emergency care right away if your child has convulsions.


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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 5/11/2015…#15785