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What Is Roseola?

Roseola, a common infection affecting children less than 2 years of age, is a mild infection characterised by fever, rash, and generalized irritability in infants.

Two common strains of herpes virus cause roseola. Duration of disease can last beyond a week in some cases.

Roseola typically isn’t serious. However, in some cases, uncontrolled high fevers can result in complications.

Treatment of roseola includes bed rest, fluids and anti-pyretic medications.

Symptoms

Roseola can be dormant in the child up to a week or 10 days. Once the disease erupts, the symptoms include:

  • Fever. Roseola typically starts with a sudden, high fever greater than 39.4 C. Other symptoms experienced include a sore throat, runny nose or cough. Swollen lymph nodes can also occur. The fever usually lasts 3-5 days.
  • Rash. Once the fever subsides, a rash typically appears – but not always. The rash consists of many small pink spots or patches, are generally flat, and usually has a global distribution all over the body. The rash, which isn’t itchy or uncomfortable, can last from several hours to several days before fading.

Other signs and symptoms of roseola may include:

  • Irritability in infants and children
  • Mild diarrhea
  • Decreased appetite
  • Swollen eyelids

When to see a doctor

Seek immediate medical care if the child has a seizure due to uncontrolled fevers.

Call your child’s doctor if:

  • The fever is uncontrolled.
  • The illness is prolonged and unresolving after a week.

Call your doctor

If immunocompromised, contact your doctor. Monitoring for a possible infection will be necessary.

Causes

The most common cause of roseola is the human herpes virus 6, and in rare cases, herpes 7.

It is spread via respiratory secretions or saliva. Hence children in close contact with other children become infected easily.

Roseola is contagious even if no rash is present. Hence the disease can spread insidiously.

Risk factors

Older infants are at greatest risk of acquiring roseola because their immune system is still developing. Newborn babies receive antibodies from their mothers that protect them in the first 6 months of life. Hence, the most common age of infection is between 6 to 15 months.

Complications

1. Seizures in children

Uncontrolled fevers can result in seizures in children. This often presents as a brief loss of consciousness, jerking of limbs, and or temporary loss of bladder or bowel control.

Although frightening, febrile seizures in otherwise healthy children are generally short-lived and are rarely harmful. However, seek medical care if unsure.

Complications from roseola are rare. The vast majority of otherwise healthy children and adults with roseola recover quickly and completely.

2. Concerns for immunocompromised individuals

Immunocompromised individuals, for example, those who have recently received a bone marrow or organ transplant, may contract roseola as a new infection or due to reactivation of the dormant virus in their body.

These patients may experience potentially serious complications from the infection, such as

pneumonia or encephalitis.

Preparing for your appointment

Prior to seeing the doctor, encourage your child to rest and drink lots of fluids.

Tests and diagnosis

Diagnosis is usually clinical though a blood test can be done to check for antibodies.

Treatments and drugs

Most children spontaneously recover within a week of the onset of the fever.

Medications to control fever can be used for symptom control.

Prevention

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 subsides.

Most patients are immune by the time they are of schooling age. However, basic hand washing is recommended to prevent the spread of the disease.

Adults who never contracted roseola as children can become infected later in life, though the disease tends to be mild in healthy adults. Infected adults however can pass the disease to children.