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Infant roseola: what is it, symptoms and treatment options

April 2020

Roseola, also known as roseola infantum, is a contagious disease that mainly affects babies and children from the ages of 3 months to 2 years, causing symptoms such as sudden high fever, which can go up to 40 ºC, decreased appetite, and irritability - which can last about 3 to 4 days - followed by small pink patches on the child's skin, especially on the torso, neck, and arms, that may or may not be itchy.

This infection is caused by some types of virus of the herpes family, such as human herpes virus types 6 and 7, echovirus 16, adenovirus, among others, which are transmitted through droplets of saliva. So, although infection with the same virus doesn’t happen more than once, it is possible to get roseola more than once if the child is infected with a different virus each time.

Despite causing uncomfortable symptoms, roseola is usually benign, doesn’t cause complications, and heals by itself. However, the pediatrician can prescribe a treatment to relieve the child's symptoms, such as antihistamine ointments to help with itching or paracetamol to control fever.

Infant roseola: what is it, symptoms and treatment options

Main symptoms

Roseola lasts about 7 days and its symptoms appear in the following order:

  1. Sudden onset of high fever, at 38 to 40° C, for about 3 to 4 days;
  2. Sudden decrease or disappearance of fever;
  3. Reddish or pinkish patches on the skin, especially on the torso, neck and arms, which last for about 2 to 5 days and disappear without the skin flaking or changing color.

The child may or may not have itchy skin as well as the patches. Other symptoms that may appear in a case of roseola include loss of appetite, cough, runny nose, red throat, lumps all over the body or diarrhea.

The pediatrician's assessment is very important to confirm the diagnosis of roseola, and this is done by checking the child's symptoms so that, if necessary, tests can be done to confirm it, because there are several situations that cause fever and reddish patches in a child.

How it spreads

Roseola spreads through contact with the saliva of another contaminated child through speaking, kissing, coughing, sneezing, or playing with toys contaminated with saliva, and it can even happen before skin patches appear. Symptoms usually appear after 5 to 15 days of contagion, during which time viruses settle and multiply.

This infection is usually not transmitted to adults because most individuals have defenses for roseola, even if they have never had the disease, but it is possible for an adult to contract roseola if their immune system is weakened. It is also rare for a pregnant woman to become infected with the roseola virus and develop the disease during pregnancy, however, even if she does become infected, there are no complications for the fetus.

How to treat

Roseola is benign and usually heals naturally. The treatment is indicated by the pediatrician and consists of controlling the symptoms of the disease, mainly using paracetamol or dipyrone to decrease the fever and so avoid febrile seizures.

In addition to drugs, there are other measures that can help control fever, such as:

  •  Dressing the child in light clothing;
  •  Avoiding quilts and blankets, even if in winter;
  •  Bathing the child only with slightly warm water;
  •  Placing a cloth soaked in cold water on the child's forehead and also under the armpits for a few minutes.

By following these guidelines, the fever should go down a little without having to resort to medication, but the child should be checked for fever several times a day. Day care or contact with other children while sick should be avoided.

Another way to help treatment and reduce fever is ash tree tea, as it has antipyretic properties. 

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