General Practice

Viral skin rashes

A viral rash is one that occurs due to a viral infection. It can itch, sting, burn, or hurt. The appearance of viral skin rashes can vary. They may appear in the form of welts, red blotches, or small bumps, and they might develop only on one part of the body or become widespread.

The duration of the rash also varies considerably depending on the type of virus that is responsible for it. A wide variety of viruses cause viral rashes. While many viral infections affect people of all ages, some are more common in children and babies, and others primarily occur in adults.

Viral rashes can occur due to many common viruses, especially those that affect babies. Various illnesses, such as mononucleosis, chickenpox, sixth disease, and measles, cause a viral rash.


A viral rash generally does not require treatment, but when specific antiviral medications are available, treating the underlying virus may reduce symptoms.

Usually, as the virus clears up, the rash also subsides. In the meantime, people can try the following to ease itching, pain, and any other discomfort:

  • Applying a topical lotion, such as calamine lotion or a topical corticosteroid, to decrease itching
  • Taking an oatmeal bath to soothe the skin and reduce itching
  • Applying cool compresses to the skin to relieve pain and itching
  • Avoiding scratching the rash, as this can increase pain and may lead to a skin infection

When to seek medical attention

Seek medical attention for a viral rash if:

  • it spreads quickly throughout the body
  • there are signs of an additional bacterial infection, such as streaks coming from the rash or leaking of fluid
  • it is painful
  • it lasts longer than a week without any improvement

Coronavirus skin rashes

Covid-19 is associated with a range of non-specific spontaneously healing skin rashes in a minority of patients. Most of these cases are located on the body, but the hands and feet can be affected. ‘Covid toes’ have the appearance of chilblains and have been useful for identifying otherwise asymptomatic yet infective carriers.