Pediatric Rash With Fever: Presentation, Causes, and Management in the ED
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Emergency Department Management of Rash and Fever in the Pediatric Patient (Infectious Disease CME and Pharmacology CME)

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About This Issue

Rash and fever are some of the most common chief complaints presenting in emergency medicine. The evaluation of skin rashes in the febrile pediatric patient includes a broad differential diagnosis and utilizing the signs and symptoms to identify red flags, such as hemodynamic instability, erythroderma, desquamation, petechiae/purpura, mucous membrane involvement, and severe pain, in the history and physical examination that require a high index of suspicion for worrisome disease. This review addresses characteristics of common rashes, such as roseola and scarlet fever, and more rare, potentially life-threatening rashes, such as meningococcemia and toxic shock syndrome, that can be used to guide management and treatment, and improve patient outcomes. You will learn:

Characteristics that distinguish benign versus life-threatening causes of skin rash in febrile pediatric patients

Examination findings that will identify red flags in the history and physical examination

To include less commonly seen, but dangerous, conditions, and those that could be potential public health threats in the differential diagnosis of skin rash in febrile patients

To utilize the history and physical examination findings to correctly identify patients who can be discharged, or those who require diagnostic testing for further evaluation

Appropriate treatment, disposition, and follow-up recommendations for the pediatric patient with a skin rash and fever

Table of Contents
  1. Abstract
  2. Case Presentations
  3. Introduction
  4. Critical Appraisal of the Literature
  5. Etiology and Pathology
  6. Differential Diagnosis
  7. Prehospital Care
  8. Emergency Department Evaluation
    1. History
    2. Physical Examination
      1. Skin Examination
      2. Additional Body Systems Examination
  9. Diagnostic Studies
  10. Management of Specific Etiologies of Rash and Fever
    1. Maculopapular Rashes
      1. Measles
      2. Erythema Infectiosum (Fifth Disease)
      3. Roseola
      4. Acute Rheumatic Fever
    2. Vesicular Rashes
      1. Varicella
      2. Hand, Foot, and Mouth Disease
    3. Erythematous Rashes
      1. Kawasaki Disease
      2. Scarlet Fever
      3. Toxic Shock Syndrome
      4. Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome
    4. Petechial/Purpuric Rashes
      1. Meningococcal Disease
      2. Henoch-Schönlein Purpura
  11. Special Populations
    1. Pregnant Patients
    2. Unvaccinated Patients
    3. Immunocompromised Patients
    4. Neonates
    5. Patients With Predisposition to Hemolytic Anemia
  12. Controversies and Cutting Edge
    1. Blood Cultures
    2. Corticosteroid Use in Patients With Henoch-Schönlein Purpura and Other Rashes
  13. Disposition
  14. Summary
  15. Time- and Cost-Effective Strategies
  16. Risk Management Pitfalls for Pediatric Patients With Rash and Fever
  17. Case Conclusions
  18. Clinical Pathway for Emergency Department Management of Rash and Fever in the Pediatric Patient
  19. Tables and Figures
    1. Table 1. Common, Non–Life-Threatening Diagnoses and “Can’t Miss,” Life-Threatening Diagnoses
    2. Table 2. Common Exanthem Characteristics Seen in Pediatric Patients
    3. Table 3. Differential Diagnosis Based on Rash Morphology
    4. Table 4. Rash Morphologies
    5. Table 5. Nondermatological Physical Examination Findings by Disease/Condition
    6. Table 6. Recommended Diagnostic Studies Based on Suspected Etiology
    7. Table 7. Modified Jones Criteria for Diagnosing Acute Rheumatic Fever
    8. Table 8. Differentiating Staphylococcal and Streptococcal Toxic Shock Syndrome
    9. Table 9. TORCH Diseases
    10. Figure 1. Morbilliform Rash of Measles
    11. Figure 2. Rash of Erythema Infectiosum (Fifth Disease)
    12. Figure 3. Viral Exanthema of Roseola
    13. Figure 4. Vesicular, Multistage Rash of Varicella
    14. Figure 5. Rash of Scarlet Fever
    15. Figure 6. Sloughing Skin of Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome
    16. Figure 7. Meningococcemia Lesions
  20. References

Abstract

Rash and fever are some of the most common chief complaints presenting to the emergency department. The evaluation of rashes in the febrile pediatric patient includes a broad differential diagnosis and use of the history and physical examination to identify red flags, such as hemodynamic instability, erythroderma, desquamation, petechiae/purpura, mucous membrane involvement, and severe pain, that should increase suspicion for worrisome disease. This issue reviews characteristics of common rashes as well as rarer, potentially life-threatening rashes, to guide management and treatment and improve patient outcomes.

Case Presentations

You arrive to a busy afternoon shift in the ED. Your first patient is a 1-year-old boy with rhinorrhea, congestion, cough, and 3 days of fever up to 39.4°C (103°F), measured rectally. His parents state that he has been playful at home and continues to eat and drink normally. They have been giving him acetaminophen and ibuprofen sporadically, but today he developed a generalized rash, and they became concerned. His vital signs are as follows: temperature, 38.7°C (101.7°F); heart rate, 135 beats/min; and blood pressure, 85/55 mm Hg. On examination, the rash is macular, erythematous, and blanching, but his eyes and mouth appear normal.

In the next room, there is a 3-year-old boy with a similar history who had mild rhinorrhea and a low-grade fever of 38.1°C (100.5°F) at home. His parents are concerned that he has been complaining of pain in his legs, on which they have noticed dark spots. He has continued to drink well, though he has been eating slightly less. His vitals signs are as follows: temperature, 37.5°C (99.5°F); heart rate, 120 beats/min; and blood pressure, 90/60 mm Hg. You observe some nonblanching spots on his lower extremities and buttocks, as well as mild edema and tenderness of his knees and ankle, but the boy is still able to bear weight with a mild limp.

Before you finish examining the boy, a nurse asks you to see another patient who she says does not look well. The patients is a 9-year-old girl with a history of ulcerative colitis who was sent from her pediatrician's office. She has had 4 days of sore throat and low-grade fever at home, and her parents assumed she had a cold. She tested positive for strep throat at her appointment today. Her vital signs are as follows: temperature, 38.5°C (101.3°F); heart rate, 126 beats/min; and blood pressure, 85/60 mm Hg. On examination, her skin appears diffusely erythematous as if she has a severe sunburn. These 3 patients all presented with dermatologic findings and fever. How do you determine which patients are truly ill, and which are not? Are there any red flags for recognizing rashes that could be life-threatening? Are there any key components to the history that are concerning? Do all of the patients need laboratory workup, or can you safely offer supportive care? Should any of these children be on isolation, either for their safety or for the safety of others?

Introduction

According to a 2015 United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report, the single most common chief complaint for children aged < 15 years was fever, and the fifth most common was skin rash.1 When paired, fever and rash may create a diagnostic dilemma for the emergency clinician. Although many relatively benign conditions present with these symptoms, some life-threatening disease states will also present as a rash in a febrile patient. Since the differential diagnosis is broad, most management decisions will be directed by key components of the history and physical examination, and any red flags. These findings should prompt consideration of diseases that would be severely detrimental to the child’s health if missed. Some rashes, such as varicella, measles, and rubella, may represent a public health concern. Diseases such as these have become slightly more prevalent in the United States, due to caregiver concerns regarding vaccinations. Rates of meningococcal disease have decreased; however, this disease does have high rates of morbidity and mortality.2

This issue of Pediatric Emergency Medicine Practice reviews various disease states, from benign to life-threatening, that can present as a fever with rash in a child. Workup, treatment, and disposition recommendations are provided based on key features of the history and physical examination.

Critical Appraisal of the Literature

A literature search was performed using PubMed. Search terms included fever, rash, viral exanthema, measles, scarlet fever, rubella, varicella, roseola, parvovirus, lyme disease, erythema migrans, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, acute rheumatic fever, erythema marginatum, Kawasaki disease, Henoch-Schönlein purpura, HSP and steroids, erythroderma, staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome, meningococcal disease, Neisseria meningitidis, purpura and fever, and toxic shock syndrome.

Multiple reviews and case reports were found, but, overall, evidence-based literature and original research was scarce. Information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the CDC was also incorporated, as well as information from textbooks in infectious disease, emergency medicine, and pediatrics specialties.

Risk Management Pitfalls for Pediatric Patients With Rash and Fever

1. “This child had a sore throat with exudate and a rash. I thought it must be scarlet fever and gave him antibiotics.”

Prior to prescribing antibiotics, the characteristics of the rash, associated symptoms, history, and physical examination findings should be taken into account to develop the differential diagnosis. Many viruses can cause skin rash and exudative pharyngitis that would not benefit from antibiotics (eg, mononucleosis).

2. “The patient did not have strep throat recently, so it can’t be acute rheumatic fever.”

Often, children have an episode of pharyngitis and do not have a rapid strep test performed to make the diagnosis of “strep throat.” Additionally, the symptoms of ARF appear after a 2- to 3-week latent period following the streptococcal pharyngitis, so prior infection may not be evident at the time of presentation.

3. “The patient has had 5 days of fever and now has a rash; this is probably just a viral exanthem.”

In the setting of 5 days of fever, Kawasaki disease should be considered, especially in infants who may not have the classic presentation of fever ≥ 5 days and at least 4 out of the 5 following clinical features: (1) conjunctival injection, (2) mucous membrane changes (bright red, cracked lips, strawberry tongue), (3) changes in peripheral extremities (usually a later finding), (4) polymorphous rash, and (5) cervical lymphadenopathy.

Tables and Figures

Table 1. Common, Non–Life-Threatening Diagnoses and “Can’t Miss,” Life-Threatening Diagnoses

Table 2. Common Exanthem Characteristics Seen in Pediatric Patients

References

Evidence-based medicine requires a critical appraisal of the literature based upon study methodology and number of subjects. Not all references are equally robust. The findings of a large, prospective, randomized, and blinded trial should carry more weight than a case report.

To help the reader judge the strength of each reference, pertinent information about the study is included in bold type following the reference, where available. In addition, the most informative references cited in this paper, as determined by the author, are highlighted.

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Publication Information
Authors

Rhonda L. Philopena, MD; Erin M. Hanley, MD; Kayla Dueland-Kuhn, MD

Peer Reviewed By

Jeffrey R. Avner, MD, FAAP; Nicole Gerber, MD

Publication Date

January 2, 2020

CME Expiration Date

February 2, 2023

CME Credits

4 AMA PRA Category 1 Credits™, 4 ACEP Category I Credits, 4 AAP Prescribed Credits, 4 AOA Category 2-A or 2-B Credits.
Specialty CME Credits: Included as part of the 4 credits, this CME activity is eligible for 4 Infectious Disease CME and 0.5 Pharmacology CME credits.

Pub Med ID: 31855328

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CME Information

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