Viral Exanthem

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Images of Viral Exanthem


A viral exanthem is the general term for a rash caused by a virus. Many rashes can look similar, and it is often difficult to determine the exact cause of the rash. Other symptoms your child might have along with the rash may provide clues as to which virus is responsible for the rash. Many times the exact virus is not determined, but the illness is treated with supportive care, meaning that the symptoms are treated until they disappear. Viral exanthems generally appear red and blotchy and are present from head to toe.

Who's at risk?

This rash is common in infants and/or children who have acquired a viral infection such as one causing cold symptoms or a sore throat.

Signs and Symptoms

A rash all over (widespread) of pink-to-red spots or bumps occurs primarily on the trunk, arms, and legs. It may or may not be itchy. Sometimes, the person does not feel well and might have fever, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, aches and pains, and irritability.

Self-Care Guidelines

For people with only mild symptoms, no treatment is required, as the rash and illness often last for only a few days and go away on their own. However, you might try:

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen for low fever and aches and pains. (DO NOT USE aspirin in children aged 18 or younger.)
  • Bed rest and plenty of liquids.

When to Seek Medical Care

See your child's doctor if your child has a rash and any of the following:

  • Fever with a temperature over 101 degrees that lasts more than a day
  • Severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, unconsciousness, or seizures
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting, severe abdominal pain
  • Severe cough or sputum with pus or blood
  • Spots, swelling, and redness on the palms or soles, blisters, swollen and painful joints
  • Red eyes, mouth, or tongue
  • Rash that is bright red and does not fade (blanch) with finger pressure

Treatments Your Physician May Prescribe

The doctor may do blood tests or cultures to look for more serious causes of such a rash.

If a serious bacterial or other infection is suspected, antibiotics may be given.

Trusted Links

MedlinePlus: Viral InfectionsClinical Information and Differential Diagnosis of Viral Exanthem


Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology, pp.1255-1259. New York: Mosby, 2003.

Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 6th ed. pp.2099-2101. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.