Can Rash Be a Symptom of RSV?

Medically reviewed by Casey Gallagher, MD

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has been known to cause a rash in addition to the more common symptoms of a runny nose, coughing, and wheezing. However, an RSV rash is rare.

This article explores how to recognize RSV and other viral illnesses that can cause a rash, as well as how to treat them.

<p>ArtMarie / Getty Images</p>

ArtMarie / Getty Images

Link Between RSV and Rash

RSV is primarily a respiratory virus. Rashes are an uncommon symptom of RSV, but they do occur. When a widespread skin rash develops from a virus, it's called a viral exanthem. RSV rashes are more likely to occur in children than adults.

In one study, a rash was seen in about 1% of people with RSV subtype A and about 10% of people with RSV subtype B. A rash was more likely to occur when the person had an additional viral illness, such as influenza, at the same time.

Other viruses that can cause respiratory symptoms and rashes, especially in children and infants, are roseola, measles, rubella, and chickenpox. T

Unlike with RSV, rash is a major feature of these conditions. Rashes in these diseases have a unique appearance that allows a healthcare provider to make a diagnosis.

Close to 60,000 children under age 5 are hospitalized with RSV annually in the United States. About 5% of adults will have an RSV infection each year, although it can be as high as 7.8%.

In people older than 65, RSV leads to anywhere from 60,000 to 160,000 hospitalizations and up to 10,000 deaths a year.

Identifying RSV Rash Symptoms

In the uncommon event that an RSV rash develops, it is usually accompanied by other symptoms of RSV, such as wheezing, a runny nose, fever, and cough.

A viral rash often appears as small bumps, spots, or blotches that may or may not be itchy. It's usually concentrated on the trunk of the body, with less of an eruption on the arms and legs, and typically lasts about five days.

In one study, rashes appeared in about 1% of people with RSV subtype A and about 10% of people with RSV subtype B.

When Do Symptoms Warrant Hospitalization?

An RSV rash is not dangerous in and of itself, but the accompanying RSV symptoms may be serious. You may need hospitalization with the following symptoms of difficulty breathing:

  • Bluish tint to the skin or nails

  • A bad headache or earache

  • Signs of severe dehydration

Getting Infant RSV Symptoms Diagnosed

The initial symptoms of RSV in most children are similar to those of a cold, such as:

  • Congestion

  • Cough

  • Fever

  • Runny nose

  • Sore throat

In infants, the symptoms might include:

  • Breathing difficulties

  • Fatigue

  • Irritability

  • Not drinking enough

  • Rash, rarely

Call your healthcare provider and get urgent medical attention if an infant is showing severe signs of difficulty breathing, including:

  • Shallow and rapid breathing

  • Flaring nostrils on each breath

  • The chest caving in with each breath

  • Bluish tint to the mouth or fingernails

  • A barking or wheezing cough

Almost all children contract RSV, usually before they are 2 years old, and most recover in a few days. If you have any concerns about an infant or child, don't wait to contact a healthcare provider.

Treatment for RSV Viral Rash

If you or your child appears to have RSV and develops a rash, it will usually go away on its own like other widespread rashes caused by viruses. If the rash is itchy, a topical anti-itch cream appropriate for the person's age can help. If the rash is severe, your healthcare provider may provide a topical steroid cream.

Itchy skin may respond to home remedies like a cold compress or oatmeal bath. However, consult your healthcare provider before using any home remedies on young children or babies.

If a viral rash is caused by an illness other than RSV, your healthcare provider may recommend additional treatments, so a correct diagnosis is important.

Other symptoms of a mild RSV infection should resolve with just at-home supportive treatment in a week or two. For fever, you can use nonprescription, over-the-counter (OTC) fever reducers.

For a stuffy nose in an infant or child, you may use saline nasal drops or suction the mucus. Keep the child or adult comfortable and have them drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration.


A vaccine for RSV is available for adults aged 60 and over and pregnant people. Vaccines for other viral illnesses that can lead to rash, including measles, rubella, chickenpox, and shingles, are also available for children and adults.

If you are pregnant, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting a single RSV vaccine shot between weeks 32 and 36 of your pregnancy. This will help protect infants up to 6 months old. Alternatively, your baby can be given preventive antibodies after you give birth.

Adults over the age of 60 and those with chronic diseases are at higher risk for a severe case of RSV. Talk to a healthcare provider if you are wondering whether to get the RSV vaccine.

RSV and other viral illnesses can be very contagious, so be careful not to transmit the disease to others. RSV can be transmitted through direct contact with a person with the virus, droplets expelled when a person coughs or sneezes, or by touching surfaces contaminated with the virus.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you see symptoms similar to a cold in a baby or child, contact a healthcare provider to check for RSV in the following circumstances:

  • Babies under 3 months of age

  • Asthma or other respiratory disease is present

  • Fever above 100.4 degrees F in babies under 3 months, above 101 degrees F in babies 3 to 6 months of age, and above 102 degrees F in babies older than 6 months

  • Symptoms that last for more than 10 days

  • Symptoms that seem to go away and then return

  • Signs of an earache, like tugging on an ear

Symptoms of severe RSV in children mean you should call 911 or take your child to the emergency room. These include:

  • Wheezing (noisy breathing when exhaling)

  • Difficult breathing indicated by rapid breaths or widening nostrils, chest caving with each breath, or bluish tint to skin, lips, or nails

  • Severe headache around the eyes or the back of the neck

  • Red or swollen eyes

  • Repeated vomiting or signs of dehydration like dry mouth or lack of tears


Respiratory syncytial virus infection can cause a rash, although this is an uncommon symptom. An RSV rash is a widespread viral rash, known as a viral exanthem.

Other causes of viral rashes that may have respiratory symptoms include measles, roseola, rubella, and chickenpox. An RSV rash is not common, so discuss any rash with a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

Most children and adults recover from RSV in a few days. But if you see signs of severe illness, including breathing difficulties, call a healthcare provider right away. Vaccines can prevent RSV and other viral infections.

Read the original article on Verywell Health.