Roseola, also called exanthem subitum and sixth disease, is a common, contagious viral infection caused by the human herpesvirus (HHV) 6. This strain of the herpes virus is different than the one that causes cold sores or genital herpes infections.
Roseola occurs most often in children aged 6 to 24 months. Youngsters typically have a high fever (greater than 103°F or 39.5°C) for 3 to 7 days. After the fever disappears, a rash will develop on the torso and spread to the arms, legs, back, and face. This rash usually only lasts for hours, but in some cases persists for several days. Some children have seizures associated with the high fever, but more often the fever is accompanied by a decrease in appetite, a mild cough, and a runny nose. This pattern of a high fever followed by a rash will help your pediatrician make the diagnosis of this infection. However, HHV-6 can also cause fever without rash or rash without fever.
Human herpes virus 6 is spread from person to person via secretions from the respiratory tract. You can reduce the chances of your child becoming infected by making sure that he washes his hands thoroughly and frequently. There is no specific treatment for roseola, and it usually goes away without causing any complications. If your child’s fever makes him uncomfortable, ask your pediatrician about lowering his temperature with acetaminophen.
Similar symptoms are associated with another herpesvirus infection caused by HHV-7. Many children infected with HHV-7 have only a mild illness. Human herpes virus 7 may be responsible for second or recurrent cases of roseola that were originally caused by HHV-6. Like all of the viruses in the herpes family, these viruses will stay within the body for life. If a person’s immune system becomes weakened by disease or medicines, the virus can reappear to cause fever and infection in the lungs or brain.