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Rashes in babies - roseola infantum

child; youth; baby; infant; rash; exanthum; subitum; roseola; sixth; fever; rashes; infectious; diseases ;

Roseola is one of the very common mild viruses that can cause a fever and rash in babies and young children. It usually does not cause problems for the child except sometimes causing the child to feel unwell for a few days.


Roseola is caused by one of the viruses in the herpes group (it cannot cause other herpes infections such as cold sores). It affects very young children between about the ages of 6 months and 3 years of age.

Roseola usually causes a fine raised red rash and a high temperature which lasts from a few hours up to 3-5 days. The rash can be sometimes be confused with measles or rubella (German measles) but Roseola rarely causes as bad an illness as these infections do.

How long does it take to develop?

  • It usually develops from 5-15 days after contact.
  • Roseola is spread by airborne droplets from the nose and throat, and also by hands, tissues and other articles that have nose and throat discharges on them. The disease is also spread by direct contact with the saliva of an infected person. It is most infectious while the child is unwell (from when the fever starts, including the time before the rash appears).
  • Most children have been in contact with this virus by the time they are 3 years old. Some may have been unwell with it, but for many the illness may have been very mild and may not have been noticed.

Signs and symptoms

  • If the child does become unwell he or she may develop a high temperature of up to 40ºC, possibly higher, which can last for a few hours, but may last 3-5 days. Children with a high fever feel very unwell and may be more miserable than usual, want a lot more cuddling and not feed as well as usual. The topic Fever may be useful.
  • As the temperature falls, a raised red rash with small spots appears, first on the body and neck and later on the face and arms and legs.
  • The rash can last from a few hours to 1-2 days.
  • Roseola may also cause a fever without the rash.
  • Children with Roseola always recover fully, usually in less than a week.

What you can do

  • Babies and young children who are unwell need extra comforting and attention. The topic 'Feeling sick' has suggestions for caring for a sick child.
  • If your baby has a high fever for more than a couple of hours, seems very unwell or is becoming more unwell, see your doctor.
  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used, if your child has a high temperature (over about 38.5º) - follow the instructions for the weight of your child on the label on the bottle (see the topic 'Using paracetamol or ibuprofen').
  • Bathing a baby in luke warm water (tepid sponge) is not useful and is not recommended. (See What to do for fever).
  • Offer the child lots of drinks.
  • Keep any unwell child home from child care or playgroups  
    • because that child needs extra attention
    • so that the infection does not spread to other babies and children. 

Health problems from roseola

  • Roseola is usually a mild short-lasting illness and complications are uncommon.
  • A few babies have a febrile convulsion (fit) when their temperature rises very quickly. (See 'Febrile convulsions – fits caused by fever'. These fits very rarely cause any ongoing problems.
  • Sometimes Roseola leads to ear infections.


Raising Children Network 

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The information on this site should not be used as an alternative to professional care. If you have a particular problem, see a doctor, or ring the Parent Helpline on 1300 364 100 (local call cost from anywhere in South Australia).

This topic may use 'he' and 'she' in turn - please change to suit your child's sex.

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