We provide helpful articles and advice about the signs and symptoms, treatments, risks and complications of roseola here and give tips on how you can help your child with roseola at home.

What is roseola?

Roseola is a common infection that is caused by the herpes group of viruses (the same group that causes cold sores and chickenpox). It most often affects children between 6 months and 2 years old, and begins with a high fever followed by a rash after 3 – 5 days. Doctors may sometimes call it Sixth Disease, baby measles or ex-anthem subitum (its medical name).

The symptoms can sometimes resemble those of scarlet fever, but the virus is not considered serious or dangerous – apart from ensuring the child’s temperature does not become so high it causes a febrile seizure or fit.

Roseola is considered contagious during the time your child has a fever. The virus is spread through coughing and sneezing and also in saliva. The incubation period (from first exposure to the virus until symptoms appear) is 9 – 10 days.

Roseola is characterised by the sudden onset of a high temperature, without any other symptoms of cold or of the child feeling unwell. The fever then suddenly drops and the rash appears.

What are the signs and symptoms of roseola?

  • Sudden fever lasting 3 – 5 days
  • Temperatures may be as high as 38.9° – 40° and go up and down in waves
  • Then the fever disappears and a smooth rash of pink or red spots starts on body and spreads to face and arms
  • The rash will turn white under pressure
  • The rash is not itchy
  • Spots may have a white ring around them
  • The rash normally fades after 2 – 3 days

Some children may also:

  • Have a runny nose and swollen eyelids
  • Be tired and irritable
  • Lose their appetite
  • Have mild diarrhoea

What is the treatment for roseola?

  • Roseola is caused by a virus so doctors will not prescribe antibiotics
  • You may want to see a doctor to confirm your child has roseola – particularly if their temperature is very high
  • For general measures to nurse your child at home see – ‘What can I do?’

Risks & complications of roseola

Babies whose temperature becomes very high can have a febrile seizure or fit. Call for emergency medical help if this ever happens. Experts say 5 – 15% of young children with roseola may have a febrile fit.

A febrile fit is characterised by:

  • Rapid jerky twitching of limbs and body for a few seconds to a few minutes
  • A loss of consciousness in your child
  • Loss of control of bladder or bowel
  • Being irritable on waking up
  • Although fits can look frightening they are usually harmless

Roseola can also be a risk to any child or adult who has a compromised immune system. For example, someone with leukemia, or someone undergoing chemotherapy treatment or who has had a bone marrow transplant. Sick children need to be kept away from these people.

What can I do for my child with roseola?

  • Give plenty of fluids
  • Paracetamol can be given to help the fever, checking the bottle for the correct dose for age
  • Tepid sponge face, body and limbs if temperature is high
  • Ensure your child is wearing cool, cotton loose fitting clothes
  • Keep the room cool in which your child sleeps
  • Ensure your child gets plenty of rest
This is an essential family health reference, covering over 100 common, important, potentially serious and often worrying symptoms and emergencies, such as headaches, chest pain, dizziness, fever, bleeding, tiredness or stress. This classic bestseller has now been completely revised and updated to include the latest information on how to care for your sick child.

Helpful Articles

For advice on Fever, click here

Our winter ailments section has an article on Cold Sores, which gives useful advice to parents


Kimberley Paterson

Kimberley Paterson is a writer and public relations expert living in Whangaparaoa. She had an initial career as a registered nurse and has spent the last 20 years writing about health and well-being.

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