Viral Rash, Child

A rash is an irritation of the skin that may cause redness, pimples, bumps, or cysts to appear on the skin. Many different things can cause a rash, or exanthem, which is the medical term for 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 usually go away after a few days, but 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

Occasionally, 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 increases water loss from the body. For infants under 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 over 1 year old, give plenty of fluids like 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 he or she drinks 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 he or she is eating well and feeling better.

  • Sleep. Periods of sleeplessness and irritability are common. A congested child will sleep best with the head and upper body propped up on pillows or with the head of the bed frame raised on a 6-inch block.

  • Fever. Use acetaminophen for fever, fussiness or discomfort. In infants over 6 months of age, you may use ibuprofen instead of acetaminophen. [NOTE: If your child has chronic liver or kidney disease or ever had a stomach ulcer or GI bleeding, talk with your doctor before using these medicines.] (Aspirin should never be used in anyone under 18 years of age who is ill with a fever. It may cause severe liver damage.)

Follow-up care

Follow up with your doctor, or as directed by our staff.

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Confused

  • Very drowsy or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Seizure

  • Stiff neck

When to seek medical care

Get prompt medical attention if any of the following occur:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) oral or 101.4°F (38.5°C) rectal or higher that does not get better with fever medication

  • Rapid breathing (over 40 breaths per minute for children less than 3 months old; over 30 breaths per minute for children over 3 months old), wheezing, or difficulty breathing

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

  • Rash becomes dark purple

  • No tears when crying; "sunken" eyes or dry mouth; no wet diapers for 8 hours in infants, reduced urine output in older children  

  • Signs of Kawasaki disease (some, but not all of these will be present):

    • High fever that lasts at least five days

    • Unusually irritable, fussy

    • Rash on the trunk or genital area

    • Severe redness of both eyes

    • Red, dry, cracked lips

    • Swollen tongue with a white coating and red bumps

    • Swollen, red rash or peeling on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet

    • Joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting or abdominal pain

    • Large swollen lymph nodes in the neck

    • Chest pain