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Pediatric - Rash, Widespread, Cause Unknown

Rash - widespread and cause unknown

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Does this describe your child's symptoms?

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Chickenpox Rash
Chickenpox Rash

Chickenpox on Abdomen
Chickenpox on Abdomen

Measles Rash
Measles Rash

Penicillin Rash on the Arm
Penicillin Rash on the Arm

Viral Rash
Viral Rash

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever

Scarlet Fever Rash
Scarlet Fever Rash

  • Rash over most of the body (widespread or generalized)
  • Occasionally just on hands, feet and buttocks - but both sides of body
  • Red or pink rash
  • Small spots, large spots or solid red skin


  • Main cause: a 2 or 3 day rash occurring with a viral illness. Viral rashes usually have symmetrical pink spots on the trunk. 
  • Other common causes: 5 rashes that you may be able to recognize are listed below. If you suspect one of them, go to that topic. If not, use this topic.

Return to School

  • Most viral rashes are no longer contagious once the fever is gone.
  • For minor rashes, your child can return to day care or school after the FEVER is gone.
  • For major rashes, your child can return to day care or school after the RASH is gone or your doctor says it’s safe to return with the rash.

If not, see these topics

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Purple or blood-colored rash with fever
  • Sudden onset of rash (within 2 hours) and also has difficulty with breathing or swallowing
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Purple or blood-colored rash WITHOUT fever
  • Bright red skin that peels off in sheets
  • Large blisters on skin
  • Bloody crusts on lips
  • Taking a medication within the last 3 days
  • Fever
  • Menstruating and using tampons
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • Widespread rash, but none of the symptoms described above (Reason: needs a diagnosis)

  1. For Non-Itchy Rashes: No treatment is necessary, except for heat rashes which respond to cool baths.
  2. For Itchy Rashes:
    • Wash the skin once with soap to remove irritants.
    • Then give your child cool baths without any soap 4 times per day for 10 minutes whenever the itch is uncomfortable (caution: avoid any chill).
    • Follow with calamine lotion or a baking soda solution (1 teaspoon in 4 ounces of water).
  3. Fever Medicine: For fever above 102°F (39°C), give acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol) or ibuprofen.
  4. Contagiousness:
    • If your child has a fever, avoid contact with other children and especially pregnant women until a diagnosis is made.
    • Most viral rashes are contagious (especially if a fever is present).
    • Your child can return to day care or school after the rash is gone or your doctor says it's safe to return with the rash.
  5. Expected Course: Most viral rashes disappear within 48 hours.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Your child becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

Last Reviewed: 1/19/2009

Last Revised: 12/19/2008

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Online

Copyright 1994-2009 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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