Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Rash: What to Know

Medically Reviewed By Mia Armstrong, MD

A rash can be a symptom of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection. The rash may occur with other symptoms, such as coughing or a runny nose. RSV causes respiratory symptoms, such as coughing or nasal congestion. Though rashes are not the most common or well-known symptom of RSV, they can develop in some people.

Doctors may refer to a rash caused by RSV as a “viral rash” or “viral exanthem.” Many viral infections, including RSV, can cause viral rashes.

This article discusses RSV rashes, including their symptoms, treatment, and when to contact a doctor.

Symptoms of an RSV rash

Someone applies lotion to their shin while sitting on a bed.
Elena Noviello/Getty Images

A viral rash usually appears Trusted Source PubMed Central Highly respected database from the National Institutes of Health Go to source as small spots, bumps, or patches. These lesions may be itchy.

The rash can develop anywhere on the body but often develops on the torso or limbs.

If your viral rash is due to RSV, you may have more typical RSV symptoms alongside the rash, such as:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • runny or congested nose
  • fever
  • decrease in appetite
  • wheezing

RSV symptoms usually develop within 4 to 6 days Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source after exposure to the virus, and may appear in stages.

Learn more about the timeline of RSV transmission and symptoms in adults.

Pictures of RSV rashes

Below is an example of what a viral rash can look like:

A medical image of a viral rash.
Mumemories/Shutterstock.
A viral rash can look like small, discolored spots or bumps.

When to see a doctor

Contact a doctor if you notice any RSV-like symptoms that seem severe or persistent or haven’t improved within a few days.

Also contact a doctor if you have a new rash. Many conditions can cause rashes, and often only a doctor can identify the right diagnosis and treatment.

Some people may experience severe symptoms and require urgent medical care. Call 911 or your local emergency services for any of the following symptoms alongside a rash:

Causes of RSV rashes

Viral rashes or viral exanthems appear as an immune response to viral infection. RSV is a viral infection that experts consider to be very contagious Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source .

While RSV is common in children, it can infect anyone regardless of age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source , most children experience RSV infection by the age of 2.

A 2016 study Trusted Source PloS One Highly respected journal, Expert written journal, Peer reviewed journal Go to source suggested that the likelihood of developing a rash with RSV depended on the RSV subtype you have. In the study, 10% of people with RSV subtype B developed a rash, while around 1% of people with RSV subtype A developed a rash.

How RSV spreads

RSV can spread in several ways, including Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source :

  • your eyes, nose, or mouth coming into contact with droplets that contain the virus, such as from:
    • breathing in or touching droplets from someone sneezing or coughing
    • kissing someone with RSV
    • sharing personal items, such as cutlery or towels
  • touching a surface that has the virus on it, and then touching your face without washing your hands thoroughly

Touching a rash caused by RSV doesn’t mean you will get RSV or the rash. However, being in close contact with someone with RSV may increase the likelihood of the virus spreading to you via droplets.

RSV can spread between people even if they do not show symptoms.

Learn more about RSV transmission, stages, and treatment.

Treatment and self-care for RSV and rashes

Because RSV is a virus, antibiotics do not work.

Doctors do not often recommend Trusted Source Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Governmental authority Go to source antiviral medications because most RSV cases go away within a couple of weeks. However, antiviral medications may help in severe RSV cases.

Rashes typically go away on their own once you recover from RSV infection.

Still, if the rash causes itchiness, your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) creams or ointments to provide relief. In more severe cases, doctors may prescribe a topical steroid cream to help soothe itching, swelling, or pain.

The following approaches may help improve or soothe RSV symptoms:

  • asking a doctor or pharmacist about OTC pain relief or fever medications
  • staying hydrated
  • resting as much as possible
  • using a saline nasal rinse
  • trying colloidal oatmeal baths for rashes
  • applying cool compress wrapped in a cloth to irritated skin

Always talk with a doctor or pharmacist before giving a child or adolescent medication — even if it is available over the counter. Some options can be safe for adults but may be dangerous for children, such as aspirin (Ascriptin, Bayer, Entercote).

Summary

RSV infection may lead to a rash, although a rash is not the most common symptom. An RSV rash may appear as small bumps or patches of irritated skin.

In most cases, RSV and its rashes do not require medical care. Instead, self-care with over-the-counter pain relief and ointments can help soothe symptoms while you recover.

Talk with a doctor for any severe, persistent, or concerning symptoms. Also, talk with a doctor if you have a new rash that doesn’t go away quickly.

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Medical Reviewer: Mia Armstrong, MD
Last Review Date: 2024 Jun 12
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