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What is Roseola?

Child suffering from Roseola.

Roseola is also known as roseola infantum. It is a very common viral infection that almost all children get at some point during early childhood. Complications are very rare – although not non-existent – and most children recover very quickly.

Roseola Causes
The cause of roseola is the human herpes virus, in particular HHV – 6. This is not the same virus that causes cold sores or genital herpes, although it is the same family.

The roseola virus, as with all human herpes viruses, is spread through the oral and fecal route. This is one of the reasons as to why it is common in younger children, because they have quite poor hygiene after going to the toilet. However, it can also be spread through airborne droplets so it is very difficult to be completely immune from it. Washing hands after the toilet is very important in terms of roseola prevention, as is covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. If you are wondering “is roseola contagious”, the answer is wholeheartedly yes. There are a number of illnesses that are very similar to roseola, so it is important to have a doctor’s confirmation of what really is ailing your child.

Who Gets Roseola
Most people who get roseola are between three months and four years of age. The most common time to be infected is between six months and a year. Generally, when a child is two years old, they will have had the illness. Naturally, there are some that never get the illness, but this is actually very uncommon. Roseola in adults is almost unheard of.

Roseola Symptoms
As is common with the human herpes virus, there are a number of stages once a person is infected. The incubation period, which is when the person has firstly consumed the virus and it starts to settle into their new host, is between five and fifteen days. After the incubation period, the symptoms are generally abrupt rather than gradual. There is likely to be a sudden rise in temperature, generally between 39 and 41 degrees Celsius (between 102 and 105 degrees Fahrenheit). In this lies the real risk of roseola, because many children don’t have the ability to regulate their body temperatures yet, leading to fever fits. Although these are harmless, medical attention must be sought after a fit. Also, if the child is unresponsive to conventional medicine and the temperature does not drop, it is also important to seek medical help.

Besides a fever, most children do not appear unwell. However, the fever can lead to coughing, diarrhea, irritability, earaches and enlarged lymph glands. Do remember that these are symptoms of the fever and not of roseola.

The fever usually lasts for about four days. Once it subsides, the tell-tale roseola rash starts to appear. Usually, these are found on the head and the trunk and present themselves as tiny, pink spots. Do perform the glass test to make sure that they are not meningitis spots and seek medical opinion if you have any doubt. The rash should go within about three days.

Roseola Treatment
More often than not, roseola goes untreated and is only diagnosed after the fact. The general exception is when it is known that there is an outbreak in the community. The most important thing in treating a child with roseola is to keep their temperature down and to keep them well hydrated. Children’s paracetamol or ibuprofen should do the trick. Children generally recover very quickly, particularly in cool and comfortable environments.


Roseola Complications
Complications are very rare, but they do occur. These complications are most common in those children that already have issues surrounding their immune systems. If you have any concerns as a parent or carer, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible. Complications reported with roseola include meningitis (where the membranes around the brain become infected), encephalitis (infection of the brain itself) and pneumonia (infection and fluid on the brain).

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