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Bacterial and Viral Rashes

Many childhood diseases have bacterial or viral causes and may come with a rash. As study continues and more and more vaccines become available, these diseases become less of a threat to your child's long-term health. However, a rash of any kind should be taken seriously and may require a trip to the doctor's office for evaluation.

Chickenpox (varicella)

A virus called varicella-zoster causes chicken pox, a very contagious disease. Although it is not a serious disease to otherwise healthy children, the symptoms last about 2 weeks and can make the child very uncomfortable. In addition, chickenpox can be a serious illness in people with weak immune systems, such as newborns, people on chemotherapy for cancer, people taking steroids, pregnant women, or those with HIV. A safe and effective vaccine is now available to children aged 1 year or older to prevent chickenpox. It takes 10-20 days to develop chickenpox after being exposed to the virus by inhaling infected droplets or coming in direct contact with the lesions on an infected person.

  • Symptoms
    • The symptoms of chickenpox often begins with a very itchy rash, which first appears on the scalp, armpits, or groin area and progresses, in waves, to spread over the entire body.
    • The rash begins as an area of redness with a small, superficial blister in the center. The blister eventually ruptures, and the lesion will form a crust.
    • Other associated symptoms include fever, malaise, sore throat, and red eyes. Fever and malaise may precede the rash in some cases.
  • Treatment
    • The virus is spread primarily from the nose and mouth of the child, but the rash itself is also contagious. The child remains contagious and cannot go to school or daycare until the last lesion has appeared and is fully crusted over.
    • No therapy treats chickenpox once it has begun, but your doctor can provide prescriptions and advice to help with the discomfort and the itching.
    • Never give aspirin to a child in general but especially one with chickenpox. A deadly disease called Reye syndrome has been associated with children taking aspirin, especially if they have chickenpox. Be sure to check the contents of any other over-the-counter medications for aspirin or salicylates because these are often found mixed with over-the-counter cold medications.
    • Chickenpox can occasionally affect the cornea, the clear front portion of the eye. If your child develops chickenpox on the tip of the nose or in the eyes, see your doctor immediately.

Measles

A paramyxovirus causes the measles. A safe and effective vaccine is available to prevent this disease, but outbreaks in people who have not been adequately vaccinated still happen.

  • Symptoms
    • The disease usually begins with nasal congestion, eye redness, swelling and tearing, cough, lethargy, and high fever.
    • On the third or fourth day of the illness, the child will develop a red rash on the face, which spreads rapidly and lasts about 7 days.
    • Another rash consisting of white spots on the gums in the mouth, may also develop.
  • Treatment
    • Once the disease begins, no medication treats measles. However, your doctor may offer treatments to care for cough, eye symptoms, and fever. Aspirin and aspirin-like products cannot be used as they can cause a life-threatening condition called Reye syndrome.
    • Some children develop secondary bacterial infections of the middle ear, sinuses, lung and neck lymph nodes. These can be treated with antibiotics.
    • Children who have measles appear quite ill and are miserable, but the illness usually gets better without lasting ill effects within 7-10 days after symptoms started.
    • You can prevent your child from getting measles by making sure they receive the recommended vaccinations. The measles vaccine is part of the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine given at age 12-15 months and repeated at age 4-6 or 11-12 years.

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

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