DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I live in the far north, where deep snow stays until late spring. This past winter my 16-month-old son came down with a rash. We were snowed in and I couldn’t get to the doctor, but I talked with him on the phone. The doctor said it was probably roseola, a herpes infection. The baby was never very sick, but I wonder if this roseola can cause future trouble. Can it? What’s the herpes connection? — A.S.
ANSWER: Let’s get the herpes issue out of the way right at the start. The virus causing roseola is the herpes-6 virus, not the virus of genital infections — herpes-2 — or the virus of cold sores — herpes-1. It’s a common childhood infection. By the third year of life, 2 years of age, 80 percent of infants have been infected with it.
A sudden rise of temperature — 103 F (39 C) or higher — heralds the onset of the illness. Even in the face of this high temperature, most babies don’t look or act sick. The fever lasts three to five days and then goes as quickly as it came. Within 12 to 24 hours of the fever’s disappearance, the baby breaks out in a rash that is light red (rose-colored, the basis of the “roseola” name) and appears on the trunk. It spreads to the face, the upper arms and the upper legs. In one to three days, the rash leaves.
Almost all children recover quickly. There are no future consequences from the usual roseola infection.
No treatment is given, because no treatment is needed. However, children who have a defect in their immune system benefit from antiviral therapy.
Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.
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