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Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Roseola is a very common illness that affects babies and young children. It is caused by two strains of the herpes virus (6 and 7). There is a full range of signs and symptoms affecting children to varying degrees, but for the majority it isn’t usually serious and most people get it only once.

Adults can become infected if they have never been exposed to it as a child, but unlike chickenpox, it is usually milder in healthy adults.

What are the symptoms?

Most people have mild symptoms of roseola and some even have no symptoms at all. After being exposed to the virus, it takes about two weeks for symptoms to appear.

Roseola can start with a high fever (usually greater than 102 degrees) that typically lasts 3-5 days. Accompanying the fever may be viral symptoms such as a runny nose, cough, sore throat, or swollen lymph glands in the neck. There may also be other non-specific symptoms like:

  • diarrhea
  • irritability
  • reduced appetite

In some cases, once the fever has gone down a rash can appear. These are typically small fine flat spots. The rash begins on the middle of the body - chest, back, and tummy area, and spreads towards the arms and the neck. The rash doesn’t cause any symptoms but can last for a few days.

When should I see my doctor?

The fevers in roseola can be very high (over 102 degrees) and this can lead some children to have febrile seizures. If this occurs it is important to seek immediate medical care. When temperatures are very high, it is important to speak to your doctor for further advice. If symptoms are not improving after a few days or there is any sign your child is getting worse, then you should seek prompt medical advice. 

Is it contagious?

Yes, similar to other viral illnesses, roseola can pass from person to person through contact with an infected person's secretions.

It is infectious early on in the course of illness, so even before there is confirmation of roseola (for example by the rash appearing) it is possible to pass this on to other children. Once the high temperature has passed, your child can return to daycare or school if they feel well enough to attend.

How to manage roseola?

There is no specific treatment for roseola.

Most people recover from the infection within a week of the fever beginning, so you just need to allow it to run its course. If your child has a very high fever, it is important to speak to your doctor right away. A fever can be managed with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It is important that your child has plenty of rest and drinks plenty of clear fluids to prevent dehydration. To aid with hydration, you can give rehydration salts.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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