Viral Exanthem Pediatric Care Plan

By David Shafran, MD
Medically reviewed
December 9, 2020

What is a viral exanthem?

A virus can affect any organ system in the body and the skin is an organ. Just as a virus can cause a runny nose, cough, or sore throat, it can also cause a rash. It’s just one more symptom.

Viral rashes tend to look like pink dots and happen more often with summertime viruses. The rash can appear anywhere on the body but usually starts on the chest, stomach and back. The rash is usually accompanied by other viral symptoms like fever, diarrhea, runny nose, cough, or sore throat. Sometimes, however they happen without other symptoms on a fussy, cranky child.

How to Treat Viral Exanthem

Usually, there’s nothing to do. These rashes are harmless. Since the rash is part of a virus, it will get better on its own. If it’s not itchy, then there’s no need to apply anything.

If the rash is itchy:

  • You can apply an unscented moisturizing cream like Aveno or Eucerin. It’s best to do this after a warm bath while the skin is still damp
  • You can apply an over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream up to 3 times per day to the itchy areas

When can my child return to school?

  • Once they no longer have a fever, even if the rash is still present
  • The rash is not spreading or is starting to go away
  • The rash didn’t come from measles or chickenpox. In this case you must get clearance from your child’s primary care provider

Check in with K if…

You have general questions about your child’s condition.

See a doctor in person if…

  • The associated viral symptoms like fever, cough, sore throat, etc. don’t improve after 5 to 7 days
  • The rash becomes painful
  • The rash moves from the skin to the lips, inside the mouth, or the anus
  • You think the rash might be from a vaccine preventable disease like chicken pox or measles
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

David Shafran, MD

Dr. Shafran is a board-certified pediatrics physician. He joins K Health from the Cleveland Clinic, where he led a pediatrics practice and completed a fellowship in transplant ethics. He has completed multiple fellowships, including one in pediatric nephrology at Rainbow, Babies & Children's University Hospitals. He received his medical degree from the Sackler School of Medicine in Tel Aviv and completed his medical residency at the Jacobi Medical Center.