What’s that spot?

Posted on 4 July 2017

Rashes in children and babies can be caused by anything from allergies and irritation to infectious diseases. Here’s how to tell a measle from a pox.

‘Spots in children result from a variety of causes, depending on the child’s age and the accompanying symptoms,’ says Dr Eugene Govere, a paediatrician at Mediclinic Newcastle. He explains that rashes and marks can appear even in newborns. These include harmless blemishes such as heat rash, birthmarks, or mongoloid spots (bruise-like grey marks) and pustular melanosis (benign lesions) in darker-skinned babies.

Although rashes can be caused by an immune response, drug reaction, blood abnormalities or genetic problems, most often the cause of rashes in young children is an infectious viral or bacterial disease.

Here’s what seven of the most common ones look like:


Tiny, flat pink spots that spread and merge into general redness. Also known as German measles, rubella is not normally serious but can be dangerous to pregnant women, potentially resulting in miscarriage or birth defects.


A blotchy red rash that first appears on the neck and face before spreading to the rest of the body. Measles is caused by a virus and occurs in epidemics. It can start with red eyes or a cough, and the rash appears after three or four days of fever and illness.

Scarlet fever

A rash that follows a sore throat, and initially appears in the armpit and groin area. Typically the cheeks and later the tongue also become unusually flushed. Scarlet fever is a streptococcal bacterial infection – the same bacteria that can cause tonsillitis.

Parvovirus B19

Rosy red cheeks that look like a slap in the face. The symptoms are a headache, runny nose and possibly fever, which can make it seem like a common cold, but potential secondary conditions such as anaemia can develop.

Chicken pox

Clusters of raised red bumps that become blisters and then scabs. This very infectious common childhood illness can last up to 14 days with fresh skin flare-ups every three days. Possible complications include pneumonia and shingles, and miscarriage in pregnant women.


Small red spots that turn pale when pressed with a finger. The full name for this herpes virus is roseola infantum, and it occurs mostly in children under two. Roseola is usually accompanied by high fevers that might cause fits.


Ulcers in the mouth, pearl-like blisters on the hands and feet, and a loss of appetite. This highly contagious virus, better known as hand, foot and mouth disease, is usually mild and occurs mostly in summer.

Prevention and treatment

The best way to prevent measles, rubella and chicken pox is by vaccination.

Other prevention includes the usual guidelines for contagious diseases – and also applies to those who are sick:

  • wash hands frequently
  • cover mouth when coughing
  • avoid others who are sick or infected.

An antibiotic can help scarlet fever, but for viral illnesses treatment is supportive:

  • relieve itching with topical creams
  • provide adequate hydration
  • control fever and pain where necessary.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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