What is Roseola Infantum?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 09 October 2016
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Roseola infantum, which is often simply known by the names roseola or sixth disease, is a viral infection that most affects children under the age of two. Resulting from contact with a couple of herpes virus strains, the condition has a relatively predictable course and most kids will recover from it with very little intervention, except some home care to provide comfort. The illness can be problematic for a small group of kids who develop febrile seizures from very high fevers, and it may also be dangerous for people with weakened immune systems to have contact with anyone with the condition.

There are two very basic stages of roseola infantum, which comprise its major symptoms. When a child, or more rarely an adult, comes in contact with the disease, incubation period may last a week or more. The first symptom to appear is often a high fever that may be over 103 degrees F (39.44 degrees C). Sometimes there is variation in the first symptom and people will develop cold-like signs that could include mild cough or stuffy nose. More frequently, sudden fever is the first sign.


Fever stage may last for up to a week or end within a few days. In classic cases of roseola infantum, the next and usually final symptom is development of a flat pink or red rash. This may start on the trunk and spread outward, possibly reaching the limbs, though not always. It can take a few days for the rash to resolves itself, but it’s not thought to be particularly uncomfortable or create itching. The rash certainly can appear fairly vivid, but it tends to look worse than it feels, and doesn’t usually require any skin treatment.

A few other minor symptoms may be associated with roseola infantum including stomach upset. Some children are tired or cranky and a few may appear to have irritated eyelids. Kids may be uninterested in eating very much during all stages of the illness.

As mentioned, the biggest problem for some people who contract roseola infantum is high fever resulting in febrile seizures. It’s thus recommended that fever treatment be part of addressing this illness, though it’s usually not diagnosed until rash appears and fever is gone. Still, a fever as high as 103 degrees is typically treated with fever reducers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. For children, aspirin is not appropriate and there is an established link between roseola and Reye’s syndrome.

Even though young children are thought most likely to contract roseola infantum, the condition could potentially affect anyone and is undoubtedly contagious. Especially until fever has cleared, children with this illness should have minimal contact with others, and should particularly avoid contact with anyone with an impaired immune system. Due to high fever, a trip to the doctor is often recommended, and parents should definitely get medical help without delay if a child has a seizure during high fever. This needs emergency treatment a parent cannot give.

Most kids won’t have this complication and parents can follow guidelines for best home care. In addition to reducing fever, rest and plenty of fluids are recommended. The illness may run its course in approximately four or five days to about two weeks. Many people are then immune to exposure in the future.


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