Roseola is a generally mild infection that usually affects children by age 2. It occasionally affects adults. Roseola is so common that most children have been infected with roseola by the time they enter kindergarten.
Two common strains of the herpes virus cause roseola. The condition typically causes several days of fever, followed by a rash.
Some children develop only a very mild case of roseola and never show any clear indication of illness, while others experience the full range of signs and symptoms.
Roseola typically isn't serious. Rarely, a very high fever can result in complications. Treatment of roseola includes bed rest, fluids and medications to reduce fever.
If your child is exposed to someone with roseola and becomes infected with the virus, it generally takes a week or two for signs and symptoms of infection to appear — if they appear at all. It's possible to become infected with roseola, but have signs and symptoms too mild to be readily noticeable. Roseola symptoms may include:
Other signs and symptoms of roseola may include:
Your child could have a convulsion (febrile seizure) if his or her fever becomes high or spikes quickly. However, usually by the time you notice your child's high temperature, the threat of a possible seizure has already passed. If your child does have an unexplained seizure, seek medical care immediately.
Call your child's doctor if:
If your immune system is compromised and you come in contact with someone who has roseola, contact your doctor. You may need monitoring for a possible infection that, for you, could be more severe than it is for a child.
Roseola is a childhood illness caused by two strains of herpes virus. Common signs of roseola are fever and a rash on the trunk and neck.
The most common cause of roseola is the human herpes virus 6, but the cause also can be another herpes virus — human herpes virus 7.
Like other viral illnesses, such as a common cold, roseola spreads from person to person through contact with an infected person's respiratory secretions or saliva. For example, a healthy child who shares a cup with a child who has roseola could contract the virus.
Roseola is contagious even if no rash is present. That means the condition can spread while an infected child has only a fever, even before it's clear that the child has roseola. Watch for signs of roseola if your child has interacted with another child who has the illness.
Unlike chickenpox and other childhood viral illnesses that spread rapidly, roseola rarely results in a communitywide outbreak. The infection can occur at any time of the year.
Older infants are at greatest risk of acquiring roseola because they haven't had time yet to develop their own antibodies against many viruses. While in the uterus, babies receive antibodies from their mothers that protect them as newborns from contracting infections, such as roseola. But this immunity decreases with time. The most common age for a child to contract roseola is between 6 and 15 months.
Occasionally a child with roseola experiences a seizure brought on by a rapid rise in body temperature. If this happens, your child might briefly lose consciousness and jerk his or her arms, legs or head for several seconds to minutes. He or she may also lose bladder or bowel control temporarily.
If your child has a seizure, seek emergency care. Although frightening, fever-related seizures in otherwise healthy young children are generally short-lived and are rarely harmful.
Complications from roseola are rare. The vast majority of otherwise healthy children and adults with roseola recover quickly and completely.
Roseola is of greater concern in people whose immune systems are compromised, such as those who have recently received a bone marrow or organ transplant. They may contract a new case of roseola — or a previous infection may come back while their immune system is weakened. Because they have less resistance to viruses in general, immune-compromised people tend to develop more-severe cases of infection and have a harder time fighting off illness.
People with weak immune systems who contract roseola may experience potentially serious complications from the infection, such as pneumonia or encephalitis — a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the brain.
Because there's no vaccine to prevent roseola, the best you can do to prevent the spread of roseola is to avoid exposing your child to an infected child. If your child is sick with roseola, keep him or her home and away from other children until the fever has broken.
Most people have antibodies to roseola by the time they're of school age, making them immune to a second infection. Even so, if one household member contracts the virus, make sure that all family members wash their hands frequently to prevent spread of the virus to anyone who isn't immune.
Adults who never contracted roseola as children can become infected later in life, though the disease tends to be mild in healthy adults. However, infected adults can pass the virus on to children.
Roseola can be difficult to diagnose because initial signs and symptoms are similar to those of other common childhood illnesses. If your child has a fever and it's clear that no cold, ear infection, strep throat or other common condition is present, your doctor may wait to see if the characteristic rash of roseola appears. Your doctor may tell you to look for the rash while you treat your child's fever at home.
Doctors confirm a diagnosis of roseola by the telltale rash or, in some cases, by a blood test to check for antibodies to roseola.
Most children recover fully from roseola within a week of the onset of the fever. With your doctor's advice, you can give your child over-the-counter medications to reduce fever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others).
Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 3, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This is because aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but potentially life-threatening condition, in such children.
There's no specific treatment for roseola, although some doctors may prescribe the antiviral medication ganciclovir (Cytovene) to treat the infection in people with weakened immunity. Antibiotics aren't effective in treating viral illnesses, such as roseola.
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:
There's no specific treatment for the rash of roseola, which fades on its own in a short time.
Roseola will likely keep your child home for a few days. When staying home with your child, plan low-key activities that you both will enjoy. If your child is sick and you need to return to work, recruit help from your partner or from other relatives and friends.
Make an appointment with your child's doctor if your child has a rash that doesn't improve after a few days, or if your child has a fever that lasts more than a week or exceeds 103 F (39.4 C).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, as well as what to expect from your doctor.
Below are some basic questions to ask your doctor about roseola. If any additional questions occur to you during your visit, don't hesitate to ask.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, including:
Before your appointment, encourage your child to rest and drink fluids. You may be able to ease fever-related discomfort with a lukewarm sponge bath or cool compresses. Ask your doctor whether over-the-counter fever medications are safe for your child.