For the first few days of roseola, a high fever might be the only symptom. Some kids might also have mild cold-like symptoms, a smaller appetite than normal, and will be fussy. But after a roseola fever breaks (usually in a few days, but it may last a week), a rash of pink or red flat or slightly raised spots, often with a lighter halo at their edges, appears on the trunk and may spread to the face and limbs. The rash can disappear within hours or a couple of days, and isn’t itchy or uncomfortable.
Roseola is a virus, spread by coughing, that tends to affects kids between 6 months and 2 years. Once a child has roseola, he probably won’t get it again. After exposure to the virus, it can take a week or two for symptoms to appear.
A child’s age and fever symptoms often lead a doctor to suspect roseola, but it usually takes the appearance of the rash to make a definitive diagnosis. There’s no blood test to confirm it, although with a high fever, your doctor might order a test to make sure a more serious bacterial infection isn’t the culprit.
Roseola is extremely common, contagious, and often spread by coughing. Make sure your child cleans his hands frequently with soap and water or sanitizer, and discourage the sharing of food or drinks when a sibling or friend is feverish. Once a child is in the rash phase, he can no longer spread roseola.
Since it’s a virus, there’s no antibiotic for roseola, but acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to bring a high fever down and make a child more comfortable. Up to 15 percent of kids with roseola have a febrile seizure, which usually last for a minute or two and won’t harm the child (just make sure your child isn’t somewhere where he can fall or hit his head). Call your doctor after a seizure occurs, or call 911 if a seizure lasts more than 10 minutes, or if your child has trouble breathing.
Kids with strong immune systems due to adequate sleep and a well-rounded diet may be able to better fight viral illnesses like roseola.
“My daughter’s roseola started as a low-grade fever on a Wednesday when she was 17 months old, and it kept getting higher and higher until it was about 103 on Friday. Motrin kept her fever in check, but she was really cranky when the fever was high. On Saturday, the fever broke, and on Sunday, there was the rash -- light red dots on her face, head, neck and chest that didn’t seem to bother her at all.” —Jo Ann Lucas, mom to Sienna, 18 months