Sniffles, stomach bugs, fever and sore throats are often associated with viruses, but rashes are common in children with viral infections as well. Rashes can be itchy and painful for kids and difficult for parents trying to determine if they are a symptom of something serious or just an everyday annoyance.
"Causes of rashes vary immensely and it can be difficult for parents to know if they should be concerned. Rashes can be caused by anything from an allergic reaction to viral illness to something more serious," said Heidi Renner, MD, pediatrician at Loyola Medicine and assistant professor in the departments of medicine and pediatrics at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine. "Most childhood rashes are no cause for concern, but it's always best to talk to your pediatrician."
According to Dr. Renner most childhood rashes will resolve by themselves or can be easily treated. Still, rashes can be a symptom of another illness or virus and a child should be seen by a doctor.
Some common viruses that may cause a rash are:
• chicken pox
Rashes caused by these viruses are extremely contagious and your child should not be around other children if he or she has a rash along with a high fever. Be sure to thoroughly wash hands to not transmit the virus to others. Contact your doctor if your child also has symptoms of dehydration that include:
• decreased fluid intake
• decreased urine output
• dry lips
"This scenario may indicate a more serious illness and the child should be evaluated by a pediatrician," said Dr. Renner.
One of the most common viruses associated with a rash in children is the coxsackie virus, also known as hand, foot and mouth disease. This often causes painful blisters on the palms, soles of the feet and back of the throat. It is transmitted through contact with nose or throat secretions or contact with an open blister caused by the rash.
"Unlike the chicken pox and measles there is no vaccine to prevent hand, foot and mouth disease. There is no treatment either. The best thing parents can do is treat the symptoms with over-the-counter pain relievers and mouthwashes/oral sprays to help alleviate some of the discomfort," said Dr. Renner.
Parvovirus B19 or Fifth's disease is another common virus that can present with a rash. It begins like any other respiratory virus with runny nose, fever and headache which are then followed with a rash on the face and body.
"Like most viruses fifth's disease is spread through secretions when someone coughs for sneezes and most children get sick a week to 10 days after exposure. Once the child develops the rash they are no longer contagious. This is usually a mild illness and no specific treatment is needed," said Dr. Renner.
Rashes can have different appearances including red flat areas, raised bumps, welts, blisters or a combination. The duration of the rash can last from a couple of days to several weeks.
If the child's fever is associated with a rash that is bright red or purple with spots or bruises that do not turn white when you push on them, seek medical attention immediately. This could be a symptom of meningococcal infection that can cause life-long disabilities or even death.
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