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Childhood Diseases: Adults Can Catch Them Too

When my 4-year-old son got roseola, I wasn't too surprised. Roseola is often associated with babies up to 18 months old, but childhood diseases are often quite contagious, and we found out that his little cousin had roseola a few days after he was at our house. So when Jackson came down with a fever, I figured it was roseola. One call to the pediatrician was enough to confirm it, and we spent the next few days treating the symptoms and waiting for the fever to break. When the telltale rash appeared, I knew he was on the mend and would be out of quarantine and on to other adventures, like our upcoming beach vacation. What surprised me, though, was when I came down with a fever two days into our trip. My symptoms mimicked Jackson's, but I didn't think that adults could catch childhood diseases. After a few days, and a lot of ibuprofen to keep the pain level down, the roseola rash appeared on my stomach.

Roseola, parvovirus and hand, foot and mouth disease are among the germs frequently thought of as causing "childhood" diseases but which can also make adults sick. However, the symptoms might present differently in adults. Tracy Zivin-Tutela, an infectious diseases specialist at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York, suggests the following ways parents can try to stay healthy while they care for their sick children.


Roseola is a virus that generally affects children younger than 2, but adults can contract the disease if they didn't have it as a child. The first symptom is a sudden high fever that lasts two to three days; after the fever suddenly ends, a rosy-pink rash appears, usually on the torso, neck and arms. Zivin-Tutela says the disease tends to be mild in healthy adults, but all family members should wash their hands frequently to prevent spread of the virus to anyone who isn't immune. While roseola was definitely uncomfortable for me, it was gone and I was back to sipping lemonade on the beach within four days.

Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease, or the Coxsackie virus, is most likely to show up in kids younger than age 10. But this painful viral disease can affect everyone in the family if good hand-washing and other precautions are not taken once the virus presents itself in the family. The symptoms are a rash of small blister-like sores on the hands and feet and in the mouth; fever; sore throat; and headache.

"Hand, foot, and mouth disease is spread from person to person through saliva, sputum or nasal mucus, blister fluid or stool of infected persons," Zivin-Tutela says. "You can lower your risk of being infected by washing your hands often with soap and water, disinfecting dirty surfaces and soiled items and avoiding close contact, such as kissing, hugging or sharing eating utensils or cups with infected persons."

While it might be hard to keep from kissing or hugging your little ones, especially when they're feeling miserable, it's worth taking precautions to keep the virus from continuing to terrorize your home. A few of my mommy friends have gotten hand, foot and mouth disease from their children. Most of them had mild cases, but one had a severe case where her gums were swollen for nearly a month. Wash those sheets, towels and dishes frequently, friends.

Parvovirus (Fifth Disease)

Parovirus (aka fifth disease) is another highly contagious virus. Its symptoms include a low-grade fever, bright red cheeks and a red rash on the arms and legs that can last from two days to more than a month. For kids, a quick call or stop at the pediatrician is often all the treatment that is required, because the virus just needs to run its course. Once someone has had fifth disease, that person becomes immune. However, if you didn't have fifth disease as a child, you can contract it as an adult, and the disease can be much more serious. Zivin-Tutela says, "Contracting this virus while pregnant can lead to serious health problems for the fetus. Parvovirus infection is also more serious for people with some kinds of anemia or who have a compromised immune system." Wash your hands frequently to prevent getting fifth disease.

Have a rash and wondering what it is? Check out our Guide to Rashes.