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What Is Roseola, and What Are the Symptoms?

Roseola is a common and generally mild viral illness that can affect babies and toddlers. It’s sometimes called sixth disease or roseola infantum, and it’s usually not something you need to worry too much about. Roseola typically causes a few days of fever, which is sometimes followed by a rash, but in mild cases, you may not notice any symptoms at all. Read on to find out more about what roseola is, to learn the signs and symptoms, and for some tips that will help you assess when it may be a good idea to contact your GP.

What Is Roseola?

Roseola is a viral infection that affects infants and toddlers, usually causing a fever and a spotty rash. While it can affect older children and adults, it’s uncommon, since most children will have been infected by the time they start nursery. While repeat cases may occur, they are uncommon. It's good to know that if your child comes down with roseola, it's likely that he'll be back to normal within a week or so.

Signs and Symptoms of Roseola

If your child has been infected, it can take about one to two weeks for visible signs to appear. Though it's possible that no symptoms will appear at all, some symptoms that could appear might include:

  • Fever. A sudden, high fever, which is often higher than 38C (100.4 degrees F). Roseola fever usually lasts about three to five days.
  • Rash. A rash may appear after the fever subsides. What does roseola look like? The rash looks like many small, flat, pink spots or patches. Sometimes the spots may be raised. The rash may start on your child’s chest, back, and abdomen, and it can then spread to the neck and arms. Sometimes it may spread to the legs or face. Though it may look a little scary, the rash isn't itchy or uncomfortable. You may be wondering: How long does a roseola rash last? Well, it normally fades and disappears within two days. No additional roseola rash treatment is generally recommended, as it will clear up on its own.
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Mildly sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Mild diarrhoea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swollen eyelids.

When to Consult Your GP and Treatment Options

Roseola can disappear on its own, but consult your GP if your child:

  • Is between 3 and 6 months old and has a fever of 39C (102 degrees F) or higher
  • Is under 3 months old and has a fever of 38C (101 degrees F) or higher
  • Has a rash that persists beyond three days
  • Has symptoms you’re concerned about
  • Has symptoms you cannot explain
  • Has a seizure for the first time, even if he seems to recover, or has a seizure that lasts for five minutes (remember, this is rare, but if this occurs, call 999 or head to your nearest A&E department right away)
  • Has a weaker immune system, placing him at greater risk of complications relating to the fever.

In most cases roseola will resolve within a week, but in the meantime, keep your child comfortable with home treatments. Make sure he gets lots of rest and plenty of fluids. Roseola treatments that your paediatrician may recommend include an over-the-counter drug, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, to help reduce the fever.

Is Roseola Contagious?

Roseola is contagious in a similar way to a common cold. It can spread through saliva (for example, sharing a cup with someone who is infected) or through respiratory droplets (via coughs or sneezes). You may be wondering: When is roseola contagious? It’s unclear how long this contagious period lasts, as a child may be able to pass on the infection the whole time he’s ill, even before the rash develops.

To try to help prevent your child getting roseola, keep him away from people you know are infected. If your child has come in contact with someone you know has it, watch for signs of the virus. Keep in mind that your child may have been exposed without you knowing. Remember, although it’s never pleasant to be sick, roseola is something many children will catch.

Adults can get roseola, too. In healthy adults, it tends to be mild, but they can still pass it on to children. That’s why if anyone in your home has it, make sure all family members wash their hands regularly to help prevent it from spreading.

Roseola is generally not a cause for concern. It’s a common childhood sickness, and your child will likely recover from roseola soon, so allow your child to rest up and take it easy.

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