SynopsisCodesLook ForDiagnostic PearlsDifferential Diagnosis & PitfallsBest TestsManagement PearlsTherapyReferences

Information for Patients

View all Images (45)

Viral exanthem in Infant/Neonate
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Viral exanthem in Infant/Neonate

Contributors: Priyanka Vedak MD, Susan Burgin MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


The term "exanthem" is derived from the Greek "exanthema," which translates to "breaking out," and is used to describe cutaneous eruptions that arise abruptly and on several skin surfaces at once. In contrast, "enanthem" refers to mucous membrane involvement. Several viral infections are associated with viral exanthems and/or enanthems. Many of the cutaneous and mucosal findings of these infections are nonspecific in nature, but key aspects of the clinical history and presentation can suggest select etiologies.

During spring and winter, nonspecific eruptions can be seen with upper respiratory illnesses, often due to parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial viruses, rhinovirus, and type A and B influenza virus. These are generally morbilliform in appearance and last for up to 2 days, and largely occur in children. Petechial lesions can also be seen in influenza and enteroviral infections when generalized.

The congenital appearance of "blueberry muffin" skin lesions raises concern for the TORCH syndrome infections (Toxoplasma, Other infections [such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)], rubella, cytomegalovirus, and herpes simplex). Neonatal varicella syndrome presents 5-12 days postpartum as a hemorrhagic exanthem with multiorgan involvement leading to a 35% mortality rate.

The classic childhood diseases that cause viral exanthems were originally named numerically for the order in which they were discovered. Second disease (scarlet fever) is secondary to a bacterial infection and will not be covered in this section. Fourth disease is no longer felt to represent a distinct entity. Measles (rubeola, first disease) and rubella (third disease) have largely been prevented by vaccination in industrialized countries; however, suspicion must remain high given the recent trend towards refusing childhood vaccination and in the case of nonimmunized immigrants.

Measles occurs secondary to paramyxovirus. Among US-resident confirmed measles cases from 2009-2014, infants aged 6-11 months had the second highest incidence of cases after children aged 12-15 months. Classically, after 10-14 days, a prodrome of fever, dry cough, coryza, and conjunctivitis (often with photosensitivity) occurs, with development of Koplik spots (gray-white papules on the buccal mucosa) approximately 2 days prior to cutaneous symptoms. Cutaneous lesions begin on the head and proceed in a cephalocaudal progression. Petechial, vesicular, and purpuric lesions have been described in association with atypical measles. The rash fades after about 5 days in a cephalocaudal fashion. Patients are contagious for about 4 days prior to and after the exanthem.

Fifth disease (erythema infectiosum) occurs secondary to parvovirus B19. It is most commonly noted in patients between 4 and 10 years of age.

Sixth disease (roseola, exanthem subitum) occurs secondary to human herpesvirus (HHV)-6 or HHV-7 and occurs in patients younger than 2 years of age. A prodrome of high fever in an otherwise well child occurs for up to 5 days, followed by a sudden defervescence and appearance of rose-pink macules and papules with white halos (subitum is Latin for "suddenly"). The presence of this exanthem marks the end of viremia. Palpebral and periorbital edema (Berliner's sign) may be seen.

Cocksackie virus can lead to herpangina in infants and children younger than 5 years of age. Following a brief incubation period, patients experience a sudden onset fever with malaise, headache, and myalgias. Oral lesions composed of 1-2 mm gray-white papulovesicles progress to ulcerations surrounded by an erythematous rim on the anterior tonsillar pillars, soft palate, uvula, and tonsils, as well as diffuse pharyngeal hyperemia. There is no associated cutaneous exanthem. Oral lesions resolve after 1 week.

Hemangioma-like lesions (erythematous papules with central pinpoint vascular supply and surrounding avascular halo) have been reported in infants 8-11 months of age in association with echovirus infections. This exanthem has been coined eruption pseudoangiomatosis.

The presence of localized lesions raises suspicion for unilateral laterothoracic exanthem, which affects children 6 months to 10 years of age. Lesions arise unilaterally around the axillary vault or inguinal crease before progressing to demonstrate bilateral involvement. Lesions are initially papular but progress to an eczematous appearance. Cutaneous lesions resolve over a period of weeks to months.


B09 – Unspecified viral infection characterized by skin and mucous membrane lesions

49882001 – Viral exanthem

Look For

Subscription Required

Diagnostic Pearls

Subscription Required

Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

Best Tests

Subscription Required

Management Pearls

Subscription Required


Subscription Required


Subscription Required

Last Reviewed:06/26/2017
Last Updated:03/21/2023
Copyright © 2023 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.
Patient Information for Viral exanthem in Infant/Neonate
Print E-Mail Images (45)
Contributors: Medical staff writer


A viral exanthem is the general term for a rash caused by a virus. Many rashes can look similar, and it is often difficult to determine the exact cause of the rash. Other symptoms your child might have along with the rash may provide clues as to which virus is responsible for the rash. Many times the exact virus is not determined, but the illness is treated with supportive care, meaning that the symptoms are treated until they disappear. Viral exanthems generally appear red and blotchy and are present from head to toe.

Who’s At Risk

This rash is common in infants and/or children who have acquired a viral infection such as one causing cold symptoms or a sore throat.

Signs & Symptoms

A rash all over (widespread) of pink-to-red spots or bumps occurs primarily on the trunk, arms, and legs. It may or may not be itchy. Sometimes, the person does not feel well and might have fever, fatigue, headache, loss of appetite, aches and pains, and irritability.

Self-Care Guidelines

For people with only mild symptoms, no treatment is required, as the rash and illness often last for only a few days and go away on their own. However, you might try:
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen for low fever and aches and pains. (DO NOT USE aspirin.)
  • Bed rest and plenty of liquids.

When to Seek Medical Care

See your child's doctor if your child has a rash and any of the following:
  • Fever with a temperature over 101 degrees that lasts more than a day
  • Severe headache, stiff neck, confusion, unconsciousness, or seizures
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting, severe abdominal pain
  • Severe cough or sputum with pus or blood
  • Spots, swelling, and redness on the palms or soles, blisters, swollen and painful joints
  • Red eyes, mouth, or tongue
  • Rash that is bright red and does not fade (blanch) with finger pressure


The doctor may do blood tests or cultures to look for more serious causes of such a rash.

If a serious bacterial or other infection is suspected, antibiotics may be given.


Bolognia, Jean L., ed. Dermatology, pp.1255-1259. New York: Mosby, 2003.

Freedberg, Irwin M., ed. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 6th ed. pp.2099-2101. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
Copyright © 2023 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.
Viral exanthem in Infant/Neonate
A medical illustration showing key findings of Viral exanthem : Fever, Rash, Widespread distribution
Clinical image of Viral exanthem - imageId=278979. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'A close-up of bright pink papules becoming confluent to form plaques.'
A close-up of bright pink papules becoming confluent to form plaques.
Copyright © 2023 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.