What is a Viral Exanthem Rash? Know the Symptoms and Causes for a Better Understanding

A virus is a small organism that cannot replicate on its own and needs to take over the cells of another organism to reproduce. These small organisms are called viruses because they are invisible to the naked eye but can infect other organisms, taking over their cells and reproducing. If you have ever had chicken pox or measles, you know how miserable they can be. These are examples of viral exanthem rashes, also known as “breakout” rashes. Viral exanthem rashes are caused by a virus that invades your skin and causes those telltale breakout spots to appear.

These types of rashes usually appear in childhood and resolve spontaneously within a few weeks. Knowing more about them will help you stay informed so that you can take care of yourself better if you ever contract one.

What is a Viral Exanthem Rash?

A viral exanthem rash is a skin rash caused by a viral infection. It is often seen in children. There are many types of viral exanthem rashes, and they can affect different parts of the body. Most viral exanthem rashes last one to two weeks and are not serious, although they can be very itchy. It is common for children to get a viral exanthem rash at some point. These rashes often go away on their own, but you should see a healthcare provider for evaluation if your child has a rash that does not go away. Some viral exanthem rashes are more serious and require specific treatment.

Symptoms of a Viral Exanthem Rash

The symptoms of a viral exanthem rash depend on which virus caused the infection. Some of these rashes produce no symptoms. Others cause a rash that is either a general redness of the skin or a small number of fluid-filled blisters. If your child has a viral exanthem rash, you should take note of the following symptoms:

  • – General redness of the skin
  • – Small fluid-filled blisters or pustules
  • – Small or large patches of skin that are scaly or crusted
  • – A fever
  • – Itching
  • – Loss of appetite
  • – Weight loss or reduced growth rate
  • – Feeling tired
  • – Headache
  • – Joint pain (if the rash is on the hands or feet)

Causes of a Viral Exanthem Rash

Viral exanthem rashes are caused by viruses that infect the top layers of the skin and cause a rash to appear. These viral exanthem rashes are common and highly contagious childhood illnesses. Several viruses can cause viral exanthem rashes, including the following:

Adenovirus – This causes cold-like symptoms followed by a red, scaly rash that is often found on the hands, wrists, and feet. It is common among children in childcare settings.

Herpes simplex – This is the most common cause of blisters on the hands and lips. It can also cause a painful rash on the buttocks, thighs, and genitals in infants. If you have a herpes simplex rash, you must avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth to decrease the chance of infecting someone else.

Varicella zoster – This is the virus that causes chickenpox, which is usually a mild illness in children.

Fifth disease – This is a mild viral exanthem rash that usually appears on the face and scalp, and is caused by a virus that is also responsible for a rash in adults called roseola.

Measles – This mild viral exanthem rash is caused by a virus that is also responsible for a rash in adults called rubella.

Canker sores (small, painful ulcers on the tongue or inside the mouth)

Hand, foot, and mouth disease – This viral exanthem rash is typically found in infants and toddlers.

Hives (itching, red, bumpy patches of skin)

Molluscum contagiosum – This viral exanthem rash is most often found on the trunk and buttocks. It is a common rash among children who have a weakened immune system.


A viral exanthem rash is a common childhood affliction. Some rashes are mild, while others are quite serious. It is important to know the symptoms of a viral exanthem rash so that you can take your child to the doctor if he has one. With good hygiene, rest, and lots of hydration, most viral exanthem rashes will go away within a few weeks. If your child has a serious viral exanthem rash, such as hand, foot, and mouth disease, or molluscum contagiosum, you should take him to the doctor for evaluation and treatment as soon as possible.

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