Roseola vs Measles: What’s the Difference?

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When your child gets sick, you can’t help but worry. Sometimes you feel helpless. When rashes appear on your child’s skin, it’s a parent’s first instinct to feel anxious and nervous, especially if you do not know what is causing it. You panic and give your child medicine for cough and colds but it is not working! So what does your child have? Is it measles? Is it roseola? What is the difference?



Roseola is also called baby measles since it only appears on children who are between ages six months to three years of age. 90% of children have been exposed to the disease with 33% actually having the virus. Although extremely rare, there have been records of older persons such as teens or adults being infected by this illness.

If your child catches roseola, do not worry. Roseola cases are rarely serious and most cases appear like a normal flu or fever.

How Do You Catch Roseola?

Most of the time Roseola is caused by a virus. The disease is airborne but it can be spread by human contact via saliva or the exhalation of the infected individual. If a child with Roseola shared the same utensils with the child who does not, the latter may be infected with the illness. Roseola cannot cause outbreaks but it doesn’t have a definite season and can be caught any time of the year.

Parents should note that roseola is contagious even if the child does not have any rashes present. This means your child could potentially spread the virus even if he or she only has a fever present and is still not determined to be infected with roseola.


The incubation period is 5-15 days. The symptoms are sudden high fever (39.4 C), seizures (known as febrile seizures), a reddish throat and a runny nose. He or she may also start to develop swollen lymph nodes in his or her neck along with the fever. As the fever starts to disappear around the fifth day, he or she will develop a rash with flat or raised rosy pink patches or spots that spreads all over the body. This rash usually starts on your child’s back, torso or chest then to the limbs. This rash isn’t itchy or uncomfortable but will usually be there for up to three days then fade away. It rarely has complications but when it does develop, it affects the lymph nodes, spleen and liver.

Not every child who catches the roseola virus develops rashes. However, it is possible to be infected with the virus but have symptoms too mild to be immediately noticeable.

Diagnosis and Treatment

A blood and urine test is done by the doctor to confirm the diagnosis. Roseola can be treated with ibuprofen, acetaminophen or sponge baths. Never give aspirin as this may cause further illness.

How to Prevent Roseola

Prevention is difficult as there is no vaccine or sure way to prevent the disease. Common assumption is exposure during childhood may provide lifelong immunity.

Because there is also no vaccine against roseola, the best way to curb the spread of the virus is to avoid exposing your child to an infected child. If your child is sick with roseola, the responsible thing to do would be to isolate them and keep them away from other children until his or her fever has completely gone away.

Most children would have developed the antibodies needed to fight roseola by the time they reach around 4 years of age (or the time they enter kindergarten), making them immune to getting it again. Despite this, if a member of the family catches the virus, make sure all family members constantly wash their hands, utensils, and cups to prevent the spread of the virus.

Adults who have not developed antibodies against roseola can still catch it later in life. Roseola in adults is typically mild, though rashes may still appear. While roseola in adults is no cause for concern, the adults can still pass it on to children who are immunocompromised (or who have not developed the immunity against roseola) yet.

When to See a Doctor

Immediately call your child’s doctor or head to the nearest emergency room if your child starts having a convulsion (febrile seizure) due to their high fever. Call your doctor if:

  • Your child has a fever that’s higher than 39.4 C
  • Your child has roseola and the fever lasts more than a week
  • The rash doesn’t disappear or improve after three days



Measles is a very contagious infection caused by a virus. This illness infects 20 million people worldwide every year. It is usually considered a childhood condition although adults may catch it. For children, this illness is considered serious and at times, fatal. Although once quite common, the number of children affected by measles goes down every year thanks to the measles vaccine.

How Do You Catch Measles?

Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease caused by a virus. It can be spread by contact with mucus, saliva, or airborne droplets (such as cough or sneezing). About 90% of at-risk people who are exposed to someone with the measles virus will catch it.


The incubation period is 7-18 days. Symptoms of the illness are high fever, diarrhea, sore throat, white spots inside the mouth, red eyes, muscular pain and a runny nose. The rash will appear three to five days after the fever appears. The rashes are small, red bumps that look like they are joined together. On the inside of the cheek are white spots called Koplik spots.

Diagnosis and Treatment

The doctor will confirm the diagnosis by examining the rash, checking the symptoms and doing a blood test. There is no definite medicine for measles. What your doctor will do is recommend acetaminophen for fever and muscular pain, vitamin A supplements to prevent complications, rest, hydrate with plenty of water and if you have one at home, use a humidifier for the throat and cough. Complications can arise and these can be fatal. Several of the most common ones are pneumonia, encephalitis (brain inflammation), low platelet count, ear infection and bronchitis.


Protect yourself from measles by immunization. The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine can be given to kids at 12 months with the second dose between ages 4 to 6. Adults who have never been immunized can request the MMR vaccine from their doctor.

When to See a Doctor

Call your doctor at once if you think you or your child may have been exposed to someone with measles or if you or your child has a rash that resembles measles. Do not wait for the other symptoms to worsen.

In Summary

Both illnesses are airborne and one person can be infected by bodily fluid contact such as sharing a spoon. With Roseola, as the fever goes away, the rashes appear. As for measles, the rashes appear while the child is still feverish. Measles can be prevented in the form of a vaccine called (MMR) while MMR has no known sure way of prevention.

Get vaccinated. Get protected. Double check the symptoms and never panic.

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