Infectious Rashes in Paediatrics

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This article provides an overview of common paediatric rashes, including appearance, causes, relevant investigations and management.

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Meningococcal rash

A meningococcal rash is a sign of meningococcal disease.

  • Cause: Neisseria meningitidis
  • Appearance: non-blanching purpuric or petechial rash. All children presenting with this assumed to have meningococcus until proven otherwise.
  • Other symptoms: pyrexia, malaise, meningitis (20-30%)
  • Management: immediate admission to hospital, resuscitation and administration of broad-spectrum antibiotics
  • Complications: septicaemia, meningitis

For more information, see the Geeky Medics guide to meningitis.Β 

Meningococcal rash
Figure 1. Meningococcal rash

Steven-Johnsons syndrome / toxic epidermal necrolysis

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) and toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) are rare, acute, and potentially fatal skin reactions that cause sheet-like skin detachmentΒ andΒ mucosal loss.

  • Causes: drugs, chemicals (burns), infections, systemic illnesses
  • Appearance: widespread blisters/bullae over erythematous/macular/haemorrhagic skin. Can also have haemorrhagic erosions on mucus membranes.Β 
  • Progression: blisters start on the face before spreading to other areas
  • Associated symptoms: fever, arthralgia, myalgia, conjunctivitis, pneumonitis
  • Management: supportive (hydration/maintain airway), identify and remove causative agent, dermatology and critical care input

For more information, see the Geeky Medics guide toΒ Stevens-Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis.

Steven Johnson Syndrome
Figure 2. Steven Johnson Syndrome (adult patient)


Impetigo is a superficial bacterial infection affecting the skin, most commonly in young children.Β 

  • Cause: Staphylococcal aureus or streptococcal skin infection
  • Appearance: erythematous macules (may progress to be vesicular/bullous) on face, neck or hands
  • Epidemiology: infants and young children
  • Management: topical (fusidic acid, mupirocin) or systemic (flucloxacillin or clarithromycin)
Figure 3. Impetigo

Kawasaki disease

Kawasaki disease is an acute systemic vasculitis that affects young children.

  • Cause: autoimmune-mediated (medium-sized blood vessel vasculitis)
  • Symptoms: fever > 5 days, conjunctivitis, polymorphous exanthem, fissuring of lips, strawberry tongue (Figure 4), diffuse erythema of oral and pharyngeal mucosa, periungual desquamation of fingers and toes, erythema of palms and soles
  • Other features: arthralgia, septic meningitis, coronary artery aneurysm, vasculitis and other cardiac conditions (congestive heart failure, myocarditis, arrhythmias, mitral insufficiency, acute MI)
  • Investigations: echocardiography (needs follow up 6 weeks later), inflammatory markers (ESR and CRP), alpha-1 antitrypsin
  • Management: high dose intravenous immunoglobulin, aspirin

For more information, see the Geeky Medics guide to Kawasaki disease.

Strawberry tongue
Figure 4. Strawberry tongue

Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome

Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome is a blistering skin disease caused by the exfoliate staphylococcal toxin.

  • Cause: exfoliative staphylococcal toxin
  • Appearance: blistering initially, then desquamation affecting flexural areas, buttocks, hands, or feet
  • Epidemiology: typically occurs in children under three years old
  • Associated symptoms: fever, irritability, diffuse blanching erythema around the mouth, desquamation as above, positive Nikolsky’s sign (the epidermal layer easily sloughs off when pressure is applied)
  • Management: hospital admission, supportive care, analgesia and intravenous antibiotics (flucloxacillin is first-line)
Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome
Figure 5. Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome

EczemaΒ herpeticum

Eczema herpeticumΒ is aΒ complication of atopic eczemaΒ that occurs with infection of theΒ herpes simplex virus (HSV).

  • Cause: type I HSV co-infection with active atopic eczema
  • Primary infection: in pre-school children, presenting with a sore throat, pyrexia, stomatitis, vesicles or ulceration in the oral cavity and face
  • Secondary infection: a cluster of itchy and painful blisters on the face and neck. New blisters have umbilication, old blisters crust and form sores.
  • Management: oral acyclovir, systemic antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection
Eczema herpeticum
Figure 6. Eczema herpeticum

ErythemaΒ nodosum

  • Appearance: red or violet subcutaneous nodules located pretibially
  • Causes: streptococcal pharyngitis, idiopathic, sarcoidosis, primary tuberculosis, inflammatory bowel disease, drug reactions
  • Management: usually self-limiting or resolves with the treatment of the underlying disorder
Erythema nodosum
Figure 7. Erythema nodosum

Erythema multiforme

Erythema multiforme (EM) is aΒ type IV hypersensitivity reaction that presents with a skin rash.

It is typically triggered by an infection (most commonly herpes simplex virus), however, it can also develop secondary drug reactions.Β EM typically affects those aged between 20 to 40.

  • Causes: HSV (90%), mycoplasma pneumonia, medications, autoimmune disease, sarcoidosis
  • Appearance: target-like lesions on the skin. Progresses to erosions of bullae which can involve oral, genital or mucosal areas.
  • Management: usually self-limiting, aciclovir is used to treat HSV infections. Oral antihistamines and corticosteroids can be used to reduce pruritus.

For more information, see the Geeky Medics guide to erythema multiforme.Β 

Erythema multiforme
Figure 8. Erythema multiforme


Measles is an infectious disease caused by a morbillivirus of the paramyxovirus family.

  • Appearance: maculopapular rash lasts 6-8 days
  • Associated symptoms: fever, coryza, cough, non-purulent conjunctivitis, Koplik spots
  • Epidemiology: young children with a seasonal peak in late winter/spring
  • Treatment: supportive, can give antibiotics to prevent secondary infection
  • Prevention: MMR vaccine at 18 months


Glandular fever (infectious mononucleosis)

Glandular fever (also called infectious mononucleosis) is an acute viral infection caused by the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV).

  • Cause: Epstein-Barr virus
  • Associated symptoms: fever, fatigue, sore throat, lymphadenopathyΒ 

A maculopapular rash can occur due to being treated with penicillin whilst infected with EBV (Figure 11).Β 

EBV penicillin rash
Figure 11. EBV penicillin rash

Hand, foot and mouth disease

Hand, foot and mouth disease is an acute viral infection caused by enteroviruses (commonly coxsackieviruses).Β 

  • Causes: coxsackievirus A16 and enterovirus A71
  • Appearance: oral vesicles which rupture to form ulcers on tongue and buccal mucosa (enanthem). Macular, maculopapular or vesicular exanthema on hands, feet, buttocks, legs, arms.
  • Management: supportive, but children with complications may require hospitalization
Hand, foot & mouth disease
Figure 12. Hand, foot & mouth disease

Erythema infectiosum (fifth disease)

Erythema infectiosum (fifth disease), also called ‘slapped cheek syndrome, is a self-limiting viral infection caused by parvovirus B19.Β 

  • Cause: parvovirus B19
  • Symptoms: begins withΒ fever, coryza, headache, nausea and vomiting
  • Appearance: malar rash with circumoral pallor (slapped cheek rash), then a lace-like rash on trunk and extremities follows
  • Epidemiology: outbreaks among school-aged children
  • Treatment: supportive as the virus is self-limiting
Fifth disease
Figure 13. Fifth disease

Chickenpox (varicella-zoster)

Chickenpox is aΒ common viral infection, caused by theΒ varicella-zoster virus (VZV).

  • Appearance: starts on head and trunk, then spreads throughout the body. Red macules -> papules -> pustule-> crusting
  • Epidemiology: between 1 and 6 years, seasonal peaks in winter and spring
  • Associated symptoms: headache, anorexia, upper respiratory tract infection, fever, itching
  • Treatment: antihistamines, paracetamol, acyclovir, VZIG for prophylaxis for contact at-risk individual

For more information, see the Geeky Medics guide to chickenpox.


Nappy (napkin) rash

Nappy rash is an irritant contact dermatitis that occurs in the nappy area. Secondary infection with Candida albicans or bacteria (Staphylococcal aureus or streptococcus) can occur.

  • Cause: candida albicans in skin creases. Candida secondarily infects areas of irritant dermatitis that has been left untreated for more than 3 days.
  • Appearance: beefy red plaques, satellite papules, superficial pustules
  • Treatment: frequent application of emollients, topical antifungal agent (e.g. nystatin, clotrimazole or ketoconazole)


Scabies is aΒ highly contagious skin infestation caused by a parasitic mite. It is spread by close contact and is more common among disadvantaged populations.

  • Cause: an infestation of the skin by mite Sarcoptes scabiei resulting in a pruritic eruption
  • Appearance: small, erythematous papule with haemorrhagic crusts on fingers, elbows, axillary folds, thighs, genitalia, feet
  • Treatment: hygiene advice, topical permethrin, oral ivermectin

For more information, see the Geeky Medics guide to scabies.Β 

Scabies nodules
Figure 16. Scabies nodules

Tinea corporis

Tinea corporis (also called ringworm) is a dermatophyte (fungal) infection of the body.Β 

  • Causes: Trichophyton tubrum, Microsporum canis, Epidermophyton
  • Appearance: pruritic, circular, erythematous scaly patch spreading centrifugally. Central clearing is seen.
  • Treatment: daily application of topical antifungals. Systemic therapy indicated in patients with failed topical therapy (terbinafine, fluconazole or itraconazole).


Tinea capitis

Tinea capitis is a fungal (dermatophyte) infection of the scalp.Β 

  • Appearance: well-demarcated scaly lesion, can be β€œgrey patch”, β€œblack dot” and favus
  • Treatment: systemic treatment with oral griseofulvin/terbinafine
Tinea Capitis
Figure 19. Tinea capitis

MolluscumΒ contagiosum

Molluscum contagiosum is a contagious dermatological infection that predominantly affects children.

  • Cause: Poxvirus
  • Appearance: flesh-coloured, dome-shaped papules on the skin
  • Associated symptoms: usually painless and sometimes pruritic
  • Treatment: self-resolving after approximately 18 monthsΒ 

For more information, see the Geeky Medics guide to molluscum contagiosum.



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