Rashes and Common Childhood Illnesses: What’s the Connection?

Rashes caused by certain viruses are extremely contagious.

Clinicians are in a good position to discuss when rashes could be a sign of a more serious illness, according to recently-released statement from a Loyola Medicine pediatrician.

“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,” 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 said in the opinion statement published on Loyola’s website.

According to Dr Renner, most childhood rashes will resolve themselves or can be easily treated but there are many vaccine-preventable diseases that cause rashes, including measles and varicella. 

Rashes caused by these viruses are extremely contagious, Dr Renner explained, and she urged clinicians to counsel parents that their child should not be around other children if they have a rash along with a high fever. She also stressed the importance of hand hygiene to reduce spread of these illnesses. 

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 chickenpox 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 or 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, so Dr Renner noted, staying alert for the different types and causative organisms is important.