What is Roseola?

Roseola (also known as Sixth disease) is a common and contagious virus. If your child has roseola, he or she will have a high fever for a few days and after the fever breaks a rash usually appears. Young children usually contract roseola between six months of age to three years of age.

Image via Flickr/ Tom Simpson

Roseola is contagious, although it is most contagious before the symptoms appear. After being exposed to the roseola virus it may take a week or two for symptoms to appear. It spreads easily and in many ways, including:

  • Coughing/sneezing
  • Saliva (sharing a drink or food with someone who is infected)
  • Skin-to-skin contact with someone who is infected (hugging or shaking hands)
  • Fecal-oral contact (if someone infected doesn’t wash their hands after using the bathroom)
  • Touching contaminated surfaces (including toys)

Roseola can start with a child showing cold or flu-like symptoms. There will be several days of very high fever, usually over 103 degrees. These high fevers can last anywhere from three to seven days. After the fever breaks, a rash often appears (but not always). The roseola rash looks like groups of pink spots, sometimes with a white ring around the spots. The spots are usually flat, but can sometimes be raised. The rash usually starts on the chest, back, and stomach areas, and then spreads to the arms and neck, sometimes the legs and face. Luckily, this rash will not be itchy or painful. This rash can last as little as a few hours or up to three days.

You’ll want to contact your pediatrician because of the high fever, but the diagnosis of roseola is usually unclear until the rash appears. Be sure to call your doctor immediately if any of the following occurs:

  • Your child won't drink or breastfeed
  • Your child has a seizure (febrile seizures can occur because of the high fever)
  • Your child has a fever over 103 degrees F
  • If fever lasts more than seven days
  • If the rash doesn't improve after three days

There may be complications if you child already has a weak immune system, as they are more likely to develop an infection and have a more difficult time fighting off the illness.

Rest and plenty of fluids are the best at-home treatment for roseola, as well as medicine to help reduce the fever. Roseola is a virus, not a bacteria, so it isn’t treated with antibiotics. Acetaminophen (like Tylenol) can help bring down the fever caused by roseola, but KidsHealth.org warns not to use aspirin when treating a child with a viral illness (there are risks associated with Reye syndrome).

If your child has roseola, you’ll want to keep them home until they are no longer feverish and contagious.

The good news is, if your child contracts or has had roseola, he or she will likely develop an immunity to it and never get roseola again.

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What is Roseola?

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