Common Children’s Illnesses: Chicken Pox, Coxsackievirus, Roseola

How to tell the difference between three common children’s viruses

It seems like everyone has had a rashy, snotty, fussy, feverish kiddo lately. One friend was so convinced her two-year-old son had chicken pox (despite being vaccinated) that she called me to preemptively apologize for exposing Coraline. Turns out he has roseola, another childhood virus that causes fever and red spots. Fevers freak parents out. Red, spotty rashes also freak parents out. The good news is that rarely does this dynamic duo indicate something serious. The bad news — at least for frazzled parents scraping the bottom of their patience barrel — is that it is probably viral and therefore must simply be left to run its course. (For more on how to manage fevers, naturally check out my “Fighting Fevers” post from March 2011.)

So if it’s not chicken pox, what is it? Coxsackievirus and roseola are two common infant and toddler illnesses that share a lot of symptoms. While this info clearly should not be used in lieu of a visit to your child’s health care practitioner, it might just save you from making a bunch of premature phone calls and ending up with a line of non-vaccinating parents at your door suggesting your kids share a lollipop.

Chicken Pox
Starts out with cold-like symptoms (runny or stuffy nose, cough, sneezing) followed by the appearance of an itchy, blistery rash. Twenty-four to 48 hours after the blisters appear they will begin to crust over, and new ones will likely appear; it usually takes 10-14 days for the virus to run its course. You are most contagious in the first two-to-five days. Can also cause fever and stomach pain.

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This highly contagious virus often only causes mild flu-like symptoms or a sudden high fever that lasts for three-to-four days (fever may be accompanied by other symptoms like sore throat or headache). More serious forms of the virus include Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease which causes a painful red rash inside the mouth and on the hands and feet, and viral meningitis.

» Read about our editor’s battle with Coxsackie virus

Frequently begins with a cold or sore throat followed by an abrupt high fever which lasts between three and seven days; when the fever breaks, a rash appears — first on the torso, and then may spread. Once symptoms have appeared, the child is no longer contagious. 

To minimize your child’s chances of contracting or spreading one of these viruses, wash hands frequently and teach them to cough and sneeze into the crook of their elbow.

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