Kids Health Info

Roseola infantum

  • Roseola infantum is a common, mild virus from the herpes group that can cause a temperature and rash in babies and young children. It does not cause other herpes infections such as cold sores, chicken pox or shingles. It may make your child feel unwell for a few days, or the symptoms may be so mild that the infection will not have been noticed.

    Roseola commonly affects children aged between six months and two years. Ninety-five per cent of children have been infected with roseola by the age of two. It usually lasts about three to five days and generally does not need any medical treatment.

    Signs and symptoms

    • Development of a sudden, high temperature (40°C or higher) which usually lasts about three to five days.
    • When the temperature drops to normal again, a raised, red rash may appear on the body and spread to the arms and legs. It is seldom seen on the face. The rash generally last for one to two days and turns white (blanches) when pressed.
    • Some children will have a high temperature and no rash.
    • A few children may have a febrile convulsion (a seizure, or fit) after the high temperature. While this is distressing for the parent, it is not usually serious. Please read the Kids Health Info factsheet: Febrile Convulsions.

    How is it spread?

    Roseola is contagious, meaning it can be spread from one person to another. It is spread through tiny drops of fluid that are expelled when an infected person talks, laughs, coughs or sneezes. If other people breathe the drops in or touch them and then touch their own noses or mouths, they can become infected as well.

    Children can only spread the infection before they have the symptoms of the illness, i.e. before the fever and/or rash have occurred. Once they have symptoms, they are no longer contagious.

    There is no known way to prevent the spread of roseola. There is no vaccine. Good and regular hand-washing and drying is the best way to help reduce the spread of the virus. Sharing eating and drinking utensils should also be avoided.

    Roseola usually affects young children only. It rarely affects adults so doctors think that a bout of roseola in childhood may provide lasting immunity to the virus. A repeat infection is possible, but is very unusual.

    Treatment

    Most of the time, roseola does not need any professional medical treatment.

    • Paracetamol can be used to help reduce the high temperature if your child seems uncomfortable or irritable.
    • Offer your child lots of drinks (water, flat lemonade or clear broth) to keep them well hydrated during a fever.
    • If you are still breastfeeding, breastmilk will also help prevent dehydration.
    • Antibiotics are of no use and cannot treat roseola because it is a virus.

    When to seek help

    You should see your family doctor if:

    • your child is lethargic (very sleepy, hard to wake)
    • your child will not drink
    • you cannot reduce your child's temperature
    • your child has a convulsion (a fit) that lasts less than five minutes.

    Call 000 for an ambulance immediately if:

    • your child has a convulsion that lasts more than five minutes
    • your child does not wake up after a convulsion
    • your child seems very sick after a convulsion.

    Key points to remember

    • Roseola is a very common, mild infection.
    • It generally affects children between the ages of six months and three years.
    • Roseola usually causes a sudden, high temperature followed by a raised, red rash which lasts for a few days.
    • Paracetamol can be used to help reduce the temperature.
    • Plenty of fluids should be given to prevent dehydration.
    • Roseola is infectious and there is no vaccine.

    For more information

    • See your local family doctor (GP).
    • See your Maternal and Child Health Nurse.

     

    The contents of this factsheet have been contributed to by the RCH Departments of Paediatrics and Dermatology. First published in July 2007. Updated November 2010.



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Disclaimer
This information is intended to support, not replace, discussion with your doctor or healthcare professionals. The authors of these consumer health information handouts have made a considerable effort to ensure the information is accurate, up to date and easy to understand. The Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne accepts no responsibility for any inaccuracies, information perceived as misleading, or the success of any treatment regimen detailed in these handouts. Information contained in the handouts is updated regularly and therefore you should always check you are referring to the most recent version of the handout. The onus is on you, the user, to ensure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date version of a consumer health information handout.