Roseola (also known as sixth disease, exanthem subitum and roseola infantum) is a viral illness in young children. Most commonly affecting are those between 6 months and 3 years old. It is usually marked by several days of high fever followed by a distinctive rash just as the fever breaks.
The high fever often ends abruptly and at about the same time a pinkish-red flat or raised rash appears on the trunk and spreads over the body. The rash's spots blanch (turn white) when you touch them and individual spots may have a lighter halo around them. The rash usually spreads to the neck, face, arms, and legs. The fever of roseola lasts from 3 to 7 days followed by a rash lasting from hours to a few days.
Roseola is contagious and spreads through tiny drops of fluid from the nose and throat of infected people. These drops are expelled when an infected person talks, laughs, sneezes, or coughs. Other people who breathe the drops in or touch them and then touch their own noses or mouths can then also become infected.
There is no known way to prevent the spread of roseola. Since the infection usually affects young kids (rarely adults), it is thought that a bout of roseola in childhood may provide some lasting immunity to the illness. Repeat cases of roseola may occur but they are not common.
Roseola usually does not require professional treatment. Most treatment is aimed at reducing the high fever. Antibiotics cannot treat roseola because a virus (not a bacterium) causes it.
Like most viruses, roseola just needs to run its course. Once the fever subsides, your child should feel better soon. However, a fever can make your child uncomfortable. To treat your child's fever at home, your doctor may recommend:
Plenty of rest. Let your child rest in bed until the fever disappears.
Plenty of fluids. Encourage your child to drink clear fluids, such as water, ginger ale, lemon-lime soda, clear broth or an electrolyte solution (such as Pedialyte) or sports drinks (such as Gatorade and Powerade) to prevent dehydration. Remove the gas bubbles from carbonated fluids. You can do this by letting the carbonated beverage stand or by shaking, pouring or stirring the beverage. Removing the carbonation will mean having your child avoid the added discomfort of excess burping or intestinal gas that carbonated beverages may cause.
Sponge baths. A lukewarm sponge bath or a cool washcloth applied to your child's head can soothe the discomfort of a fever. However, avoid using ice, cold water, fans or cold baths. These may give the child unwanted chills.
There's no specific treatment for the rash of roseola. The rash fades on its own in a short time.
To make a diagnosis, your doctor first will take a history and do a thorough physical examination. A diagnosis of roseola is often uncertain until the fever drops and the rash appears, so the doctor may order tests to make sure that the fever is not caused by another type of infection.
Call the doctor if your child is lethargic or not drinking or if you cannot keep the fever down. If your child has a seizure, seek emergency care immediately.
MC Ortega is the former publicist for the late Walter Payton, Coca-Cola and Dunkin’ Donuts. Ortega is a senior communications and messaging executive specializing in media relations, social media, program development and crisis communications. Also, Ortega is an avid traveler and international shopper. Ortega resides with her partner, Craig, dog, Fionne and extensive shoe collection. Ortega also enjoys jewelry design/production and flamenco dancing.