Contagious Child Viruses

Dr. Alan Greene answers the question, How contagious are these rashes and how are they treated?


What is the difference between fifth disease ("slap cheek") and hand-foot-and-mouth disease? How contagious are they and how are they treated?


There are a few childhood rashes that go along with common childhood viruses that are no longer contagious once the rash breaks out. Roseola and "slap cheek" are great examples of this. Kids with the rashes are often excluded from day care even though they are not contagious at all.

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is quite contagious when the rash is present. If the child has a fever, you can catch the infection just by being in the same room. If the fever is gone, you can still catch it by touching the rash or the saliva of the infected person, and the virus stays in the stool for months. In fact, the most common way it is spread is from stool to hand to mouth, so hand washing is important. Houseflies have also been known to pass hand-foot-and-mouth disease.

Even though this virus is very contagious, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not recommend keeping kids with hand-foot-and-mouth disease out of day care or school. Their reasoning is that more than half of the kids with this virus have no rash and no symptoms at all. Therefore, if it's in a classroom, it will spread whether or not the child with the rash comes to school.

The information on this Web site is designed for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for informed medical advice or care. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat any health problems or illnesses without consulting your pediatrician or family doctor. Please consult a doctor with any questions or concerns you might have regarding your or your child's condition.

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