Roseola is a very common childhood illness, but it can be a scary one for parents and pediatricians alike. 

Roseola begins with a sudden high fever, which can get as high as 103. The fever can last three to five days, and during that time, the child is incredibly grumpy. Once the fever goes down, a red, splotchy rash appears on the child’s skin, often noticed when the child is warm, like getting out of the bath or waking up from a nap. 

The rash is not contagious and can last for a few weeks. The rash actually signals the end of the illness, with the fever being when the child is most contagious. 

 

If roseola isn’t a big deal, why is it scary for parents and pediatricians?

In children under 18 months old, sudden high fever and grumpiness can be the only symptoms of a very serious condition – meningitis. Pediatricians will sometimes want to test for meningitis when a baby is showing these symptoms, because they will not know it is roseola until the rash appears and the fever has gone down. 

Testing for meningitis can be intense, with babies needing blood work, urine tests and potentially a spinal tap and/or a hospital stay. 

A sudden high fever in a baby can also cause a febrile seizure, which are convulsions that can happen when a child has a fever over 100. Febrile seizures are usually pretty benign, but can cause a lot of panic for parents and caregivers. 

As parents, it is important to remember that almost all babies get roseola, typically before the child reaches the age of 3. 

If your child or a child in your care spikes a sudden high fever, it is always a good idea to visit the doctor. 


Check out more info at Mayo Clinic.