Exanthematous Diseases in Children

Exanthematous diseases refer to any illness that produces exanthema of reddish rashes on the skin. Find out what they are in today's article.
Exanthematous Diseases in Children

Last update: 15 April, 2020

Exanthematous diseases in children are a common issue and are usually mild in nature. However, it’s still important to know what they are and how to avoid them. We’ll take a closer look at the different illnesses that can affect little ones and what you can do to prevent them.

What are exanthematous diseases?

Exanthematous diseases are a group of infections whose main characteristic is the appearance of a skin rash or exanthema. They’re often the result of a rash and they’re more frequent during childhood.

An exanthema is a lesion on the skin that is reddish or purple in color. It’s also common for a fever to precede or accompany these skin eruptions. While exanthema are a manifestation of a great number of infections, they can be the result of many different causes.

Which exanthematous diseases are frequent during childhood?

The most common exanthematous diseases during childhood are the following:

  • The measles.
  • Rubella.
  • Chickenpox.
  • Scarlet fever.
  • Fifth disease or infectious erythema.
  • Roseola infantum or sixth disease.

Let’s take a closer look at each one:

The measles

The measles is an illness produced by a virus of the genus Morbbillivirus. It spreads through respiratory and conjunctival secretions and is present in winter and spring.

The incubation period of this virus is between 11 and 14 days. It involves a fever of between 102 to 104 ºF during days 2 to 5 as well as overall discomfort. In general, the exanthema appears 14 days after exposure to the virus. The rash begins on the face and then spreads to the thorax and extremities.

A baby with the measles.

Erythematous plaques appear that join and disappear leaving brown colored stains and scaly skin. The most frequent complications include neurologies and pneumonia.

Children who end up in the hospital due to the measles must remain in respiratory isolation for 4 days after the appearance of the exanthema. Specialists recommend vitamin A for children with the mumps who live in areas where this vitamin is lacking.

Prevention of this disease is simple and involves the application of the MMR vaccine. This vaccine protects children from mumps, measles, and rubella. Thanks to vaccination campaigns, this illness has been under control for a long time. However, unvaccinated preschool-aged children run the risk of contracting this disease, as well as teenagers whose vaccination failed.


Chickenpox is one of the most well-known exanthematous diseases and results from the varicella zoster virus. Its manifestations are more serious in adults and those who are immunosuppressed.

Here, the incubation period is between 10 and 21 days. Then, a period of mild discomfort follows, including headache, abdominal pain, and a fever of less than 102 ºF. The exanthema, in this case, is macular papular and itchy. These lesions change their shape until finally forming scabs .

Children with chickenpox must remain home from school until their spots are in the scab state. This is when the period of contagion is over. Once again, in order to prevent this illness, children should receive the varicella vaccine according to their vaccination calendar.


Rubella is a rather benign illness that’s most frequent towards the end of winter in school-aged children. In adults and especially in pregnant women, this disease can lead to more serious complications.

The incubation period of rubella lasts anywhere between 14 and 21 days. It doesn’t tend to produce any symptoms in children until the appearance of the exanthema. This pink rash tends to be macular and papular and quickly spreads in less than 24 hours.

The virus behind this illness comes from the Rubivirus genus. In almost every case, a generalized adenomegaly is a characteristic symptom. No treatment is necessary.

As we stated above, the MMR vaccine prevents this illness as well as mumps and measles.

Scarlet fever

While the above exanthematous diseases are all viral, scarlet behavior is a bacterial disease caused by a toxin of the same bacteria that produces strep throat. This bacteria releases a toxin that produces a skin rash and reddening of the tongue. These are the two most typical features of scarlet fever.

This infection spreads through respiratory secretions and begins with a fever, headache, and tonsillitis. The exanthema is maculopapular and erythematous. Many compare it to sandpaper.

Scarlet fever can lead to serious complications including pneumonia, meningitis, hepatitis… Treatment with penicillin should begin within 9 days of the appearance of tonsillitis. In the case of penicillin allergy, patients may receive erythromycin.

Fifth disease or infectious erythema

Infections erythema is also known as the fifth disease because it’s the fifth most common exanthematous disease among children. Another common name for this sickness is slapped cheek syndrome, given the fact that the exanthema causes children’s cheeks to become red.

This erythema is usually the first sign of fifth disease, although other symptoms may also come first. These include fever, headache, overall discomfort, nausea, and vomiting. The incubation period is between 5 and 14 days.

Las enfermedades exantemáticas en la infancia.

Once again, we’re looking at a viral infection – in this case, caused by human parvovirus B19. It’s most frequent in children between the ages of 6 and 19 years of age, as well as the elderly. It can produce serious complications in individuals with immunodeficiency or hemolytic anemia, as well as in pregnant women.

Roseola infantum or sixth disease

Roseola infantum is also known as sixth disease because it’s number six among the most common exanthematous diseases in children. It’s also known as exanthema subitum or the 3-day fever.

The incubation period of this illness is between 10 and 15 days. It tends to cause high fever – above 102 degrees – that lasts between 3 and 5 days. Once the fever goes away, a mild maculopapular rash appears, but it doesn’t tend to affect the face.

The cause behind this viral infection is a virus from the Herpesviridae family. It tends to appear in children between the ages of 3 months and 3 years, generally during spring or fall. It spreads through respiratory secretions .

Exanthematous diseases in children: Conclusion

Besides the illness mentioned above, there are many other exanthematous diseases that are common during childhood. As we’ve said, they generally aren’t serious. However, we must pay attention to the appearance of any sort of rash in children. If your child presents any symptoms, see a pediatrician to get a proper diagnosis.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

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This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.