Viral Rash (Child)

Your child has been diagnosed with a rash caused by a virus. A rash is an irritation of the skin that may cause redness, pimples, bumps, or blisters. Many different things can cause a rash. In children, a viral infection is one of the most common causes of rashes. Anything from colds to measles can cause a viral rash. Viral rashes are not allergic reactions. They are the result of an infection. Unlike an allergic reaction, viral rashes usually do not cause itching or pain.

Viral rashes often go away after a few days. But they may last up to 2 weeks. Antibiotics are not used to treat viral rashes.


Viral rashes may be accompanied by any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Decreased energy

  • Loss of appetite

  • Headache

  • Muscle aches

  • Stomach aches

Sometimes a more serious infection can look like a viral rash in the first few days of the illness. This is why it is important to watch for the warning signs listed below.

Home care

The following will help you care for your child at home:

  • Fluids. Fever and rashes both increase water loss from the body. For babies less than 1 year old, continue regular feedings (formula or breast). Between feedings give oral rehydration solution (ORS). You can get ORS at most grocery and drug stores without a prescription. For children older than 1 year, give plenty of fluids such as water, juice, gelatin water, lemon-lime soda, ginger-ale, lemonade, or Popsicles.

  • Feeding. If your child doesn't want to eat solid foods, it's OK for a few days, as long as they drink lots of fluid.

  • Activity. Keep children with fever at home resting or playing quietly. Encourage frequent naps. Your child may return to daycare or school when the fever is gone and they are eating well and feeling better.

  • Sleep. Periods of sleeplessness and irritability are common. Give your child plenty of time to sleep. 

  • Fever. Use acetaminophen for fever, fussiness, or discomfort. In infants older than 6 months of age, you may use ibuprofen instead of acetaminophen. Talk with your child's healthcare provider before giving these medicines if your child has chronic liver or kidney disease. Also talk with your child's provider if your child has ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding. Aspirin should never be used in anyone under 18 years of age who is ill with a fever. It may result in a serious condition called Reye syndrome that can cause severe liver and brain damage.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child's healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Viral rashes often go away after a few days. But they may last up to 2 weeks. While your child is recovering, call your child's healthcare provider or get medical care right away if any of these occur:

  • The rash affects the eyes, mouth, or genitals

  • The rash becomes more severe rather than improving over a few days

  • Your child is getting sicker instead of better

  • Fever (see "Fever and children" below)

  • Rapid breathing. This means more than 40 breaths per minute for children less than 3 months old, or more than 30 breaths per minute for children over 3 months old.

  • Wheezing or trouble breathing

  • Earache, sinus pain, stiff or painful neck, headache, repeated diarrhea or vomiting

  • Rash becomes dark purple

  • Signs of dehydration. These include no tears when crying, sunken eyes or dry mouth, no wet diapers for 8 hours in infants, reduced urine output in older children, or excessive sleepiness.

Fever and children

Use a digital thermometer to check your child’s temperature. Don’t use a mercury thermometer. There are different kinds and uses of digital thermometers. They include:

  • Rectal. For children younger than 3 years old, a rectal temperature is the most accurate.

  • Forehead (temporal). This works for children age 3 months and older. If a child under 3 months old has signs of illness, this can be used for a first pass. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Ear (tympanic). Ear temperatures are accurate after 6 months of age, but not before.

  • Armpit (axillary). This is the least reliable but may be used for a first pass to check a child of any age with signs of illness. The provider may want to confirm with a rectal temperature.

  • Mouth (oral). Don’t use a thermometer in your child’s mouth until they are at least 4 years old.

Use the rectal thermometer with care. Follow the product maker’s directions for correct use. Insert it gently. Label it and make sure it’s not used in the mouth. It may pass on germs from the stool. If you don’t feel OK using a rectal thermometer, ask the healthcare provider what type to use instead. When you talk with any healthcare provider about your child’s fever, tell them which type you used.

Below are guidelines to know if your young child has a fever. Your child’s healthcare provider may give you different numbers for your child. Follow your provider’s specific instructions.

Fever readings for a baby under 3 months old:

  • First, ask your child’s healthcare provider how you should take the temperature.

  • Rectal or forehead: 100.4°F (38°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 99°F (37.2°C) or higher

Fever readings for a child age 3 months to 36 months (3 years):

  • Rectal, forehead, or ear: 102°F (38.9°C) or higher

  • Armpit: 101°F (38.3°C) or higher

Call the healthcare provider in these cases:

  • Repeated temperature of 104°F (40°C) or higher in a child of any age

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher in baby younger than 3 months

  • Fever that lasts more than 24 hours in a child under age 2

  • Fever that lasts for 3 days in a child age 2 or older

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

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