Kids Health Info

Roseola infantum

  • Roseola infantum is a common, mild, viral infection that can cause a temperature and rash in babies and young children. It is caused by a virus from the herpes group, but it does not cause other herpes infections like cold sores. In the past, roseola was sometimes referred to as 'baby measles'.

    Roseola usually lasts around four days and almost never requires any medical treatment. Most symptoms are so mild that parents do not even realise their child is infected with the virus.

    Roseola commonly affects children aged between six months and two years, and 95 per cent of children have been infected with it by the age of two. Roseola is contagious before the symptoms appear, so it is difficult to prevent its spread to others. 

    Signs and symptoms

    If your child has roseola, they may have a sudden high temperature, which usually lasts between three to five days. Occasionally, a raised, red rash can develop when your child’s temperature returns to normal. It appears on the body and spreads to the arms and legs; it is rarely seen on the face. The rash generally lasts for two days and turns white (blanches) when pressed.

    Some children get a high temperature but no rash. Rarely, the temperature spikes quite suddenly and can lead to a febrile convulsion (a seizure, or fit). While this is distressing for parents to witness, it is not usually serious. See our fact sheet Febrile convulsions.

    How is roseola spread?

    Roseola is contagious, meaning it can be spread from one person to another. It is spread by the fluids that are coughed or sneezed into the air. 

    Children with roseola can only spread the infection before the fever and/or rash occur. Once your child has symptoms, they are no longer contagious.

    There is no known way to prevent the spread of roseola and there is no vaccine. Thorough hand hygiene is the best way to help reduce the spread of the virus. 

    Care at home

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

    • Paracetamol can be used to help reduce a high temperature if your child seems uncomfortable or irritable. See our fact sheet Pain relief for children.
    • Offer your child plenty of fluids (water, breastmilk or formula) to keep them well hydrated during a fever.
    • Antibiotics are not given because antibiotics do not treat viruses.

    When to see a doctor

    You should see your GP if your child:

    • is lethargic (very sleepy, hard to wake)
    • will not drink
    • you child has a fever that does not get better after 48 hours
    • has a convulsion (a fit) that lasts less than five minutes.

    You should call 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.

    If your child is unwell with a fever and a skin rash (small bright red spots or purple spots or unexplained bruises) that does not turn to skin-colour (blanch) when you press on it, this may be a sign of meningococcal infection (see our fact sheet Meningococcal infection).

    Key points to remember

    • Roseola is a very common, mild infection, usually affecting children between the ages of six months and two years.
    • Roseola may cause a sudden, high temperature followed by a raised, red rash that lasts for a few days.
    • Give plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, and paracetamol may be used to help make your child more comfortable.
    • Roseola is contagious, but only before the symptoms appear.

    For more information

    Common questions our doctors are asked

    Should I keep my child home from child care if she has roseola?

    Children with roseola are only contagious before their symptoms appear, so once you realise they have roseola they can no longer spread the virus to other children. If your child is feeling well enough, because her symptoms are very mild, it will be OK to send her to child care. If she has a fever and is feeling unwell, it is better to keep her home so she can rest and recover.

    Can adults catch roseola from their child?

    Roseola rarely affects adults, so doctors think that a bout of roseola in childhood may provide lasting immunity to the virus. By the age of two years, 95 per cent of people have been infected with roseola. A repeat infection is possible, but is very unusual.

    Do I need to put any creams on my child’s rash?

    No. The rashes caused by roseola will not cause any discomfort to your child, and will get better on their own.


    Developed by The Royal Children's Hospital Paediatrics and Dermatology departments. We acknowledge the input of RCH consumers and carers.

    Reviewed March 2018.

    Kids Health Info is supported by The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation. To donate, visit www.rchfoundation.org.au.

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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.