“Non specific Viral Illness”

Would you believe that small children can get a horrible looking rash from head to toe and nobody knows what it is? Well that scenario would have seemed far-fetched to me a month ago. But that’s just what happened to my son Miles.

He contracted this so-called “non-specific viral illness” one day completely out of the blue. I left my perfectly healthy looking son in the morning one day to go to work and when I got home late that afternoon, I could not believe my eyes. My son was standing before me covered from head to toe with red, spotty rash like dots. He looked awful! And I, of course, felt terrible for him.

In spite of how he looked, Miles seemed to be in good spirits, and my first thought was that he had contracted Chicken Pox. I remembered my little brother had Chicken Pox and was in good spirits too. In addition, my Mother said when I was as a small child I got the Chicken Pox too. So I did some research about Chicken Pox online and read a little in the book “What to Expect in the First Year” by Arlene Eisenberg, which states that Chicken Pox is a common childhood illness. But my husband thought he had the Measles! Although I didn’t think it was life-threatening illness, I had little knowledge with either Measles or Chicken Pox.

What to do?

First, I gave my son a nice warm bath and then dressed him in light loose fitting clothes. I then clipped his fingernails, (as to not spread or infect other areas of the body). Then I called the Pediatrician.

After talking to the Pediatrician, I have to say I was a bit bothered that she could not give me more specifics of what my child had. That was when I first learned about a condition referred to as “Non-Specific Viral Illness” for the first time. After giving her a description of Miles’s symptoms, she assured me my son didn’t have Chicken pox, Measles, or any other life-threatening diseases. She said it was simply a “Non-Specific Viral Infection”, the cause of which is unknown. It seemed amazing that a virus that could physically look so awful could in fact be quite harmless. Although my fears were starting to subside, I still felt I needed to get more educated! I still had questions and needed answers. I was looking for a better understanding of what I was dealing with. I got on-line and looked up as much information as I could on “Non-Specific Viral Illness, Chicken Pox, and the Measles”.
Much to my surprise there were hundreds and hundreds of cases just like mine and I found a lot of information on “Non-Specific Viral Illness”, Chicken Pox and the Measles. I indeed felt a lot better to see and hear for myself the facts of what my son got. Here is what I found:

Many viruses cause a fine, red spotty rash on part or all of the body. It can look very like the rash of rubella, but often the other features of rubella are absent. If it occurs after the child has been vaccinated against rubella, then it is extremely unlikely to be rubella.

Often a doctor will simply diagnose a ‘non-specific viral infection’. This means that although the features of the illness indicate that this is a viral infection, it is not possible to say exactly what virus is causing it. Technically it is possible to do sophisticated antibody tests to determine what the virus is, but it is usually of no help, as most illnesses will follow their natural course, and full recovery is the rule.

These tests may be helpful when an illness goes on longer than expected, or if there are unexpected complications which can’t be explained any other way.

What to do:

  • Comfort your child and keep him indoors for a few days
  • If your child is not recovering within five days, or if you think it may be rubella, then see your doctor as soon as possible, so the rash can be examined


Rubella is also known as German Measles. The ‘German’ part of the name is originally derived from ‘germane’, meaning that it is like measles. It actually has nothing to do with Germany. The incubation period (the time when the infection is brewing but not evident, before illness starts) is 14 to 21 days. It is infectious from a few days before the symptoms start, until a week after the rash first appears.

The symptoms of rubella are initially like a mild cold. Then after a couple of days a pink rash appears. This is made up of extremely small and fine red spots. The rash often first appears on the face.  Rubella is a mild illness. Like measles, it is seen less and less often as the national immunization program is effective in reducing it to a rarity.

The major complication of this disease is the malformations that occur in unborn babies if an infected pregnant mother is not immune. It is therefore important to keep a child with suspected rubella away from anyone who is pregnant until a week after the rash appears. If contact has occurred during the infectious period, the pregnant woman should have a blood test to check whether or not she is immune. This may already have been done as part of antenatal screening, but it is important to check.


This is spread through the spray of saliva produced by coughing or sneezing. It is infectious from the first symptoms (cough, conjunctivitis, fever and a miserable child), until five days after the rash starts. The rash is small red spots, often starting behind the ears. This spreads down the body and the spots join up. The incubation period is seven to 21 days.

A classic sign is Koplik’s spots, which look like large grains of salt, and appear inside the mouth. However they have often faded by the time the rash appears.

Complications are rare but can include fits, pneumonitis (lung inflammation), meningitis (inflammation of the brain coverings) and encephalitis (brain inflammation). Without complications, recovery is usually complete.

Measles is rare nowadays, thanks to the national immunization program. In the days before this, complications of the illness were seen occasionally. Because measles is now so rare, many younger doctors find it hard to recognize: they may never have seen it.
The vaccination against measles is a part of the standard immunization offered to all children in the UK. Although complications to the vaccine exist, they are far rarer than the complications of the illness itself, and usually less serious.

What to do

Contact your doctor for diagnosis and advice and treat with general measures for a fever:

  • Sponge your child down gently with tepid water, all over. Allow the body heat to dry the skin rather than toweling it dry. This can be repeated as often as necessary. Although your child may protest while you are doing this, he will feel much better afterwards, and the fever can be reduced by as much as one degree centigrade
  • Give regular doses of sugar-free paracetamol syrup to help reduce fever, and combat aches and pains. Calculate the dose according to the manufacturer’s instructions, or ask your pharmacist
  • Keep your child as undressed as possible to allow heat to be lost
  • Encourage your child to take small, frequent sips of anything they will drink (though preferably clear fluids like water or squash rather than milky drinks)


Chickenpox is a common illness caused by the varicella zoster virus. It occurs mainly in autumn and winter, and it is spread through tiny droplets of saliva in the fine spray created by coughing or sneezing. It is usually a childhood illness.

The incubation period is 15-20 days. The illness starts with a mild fever lasting about three days. The rash starts, usually on the trunk, as itchy red spots, which gradually form blisters. The rash then spreads to the rest of the body. The blisters break and scab over and the scabs fall off within ten days.

The fluid in the blisters is loaded with virus particles, so the sufferer is infectious from two days before the rash appears until the last spot has scabbed over.

In children, serious complications are very rare, but can include a special form of pneumonia, and brain inflammation (encephalitis).

What to do

  • The most common problem is bacterial infection of the skin sores. To avoid this, keep nails short to reduce damage from scratching, and soothe the rash with calamine lotion
  • Do not use hydrocortisone cream in this situation. A doctor should see any healthy adult with chickenpox, and increasing illness should be taken seriously: adults are more likely than children to develop the complications, and the illness in general is nastier.

If a pregnant woman catches chickenpox, the infection can spread to the unborn baby, and this can cause serious problems. If your child has chickenpox, be sure to avoid contact with all adults who have never had it, especially pregnant women. Women who have had chickenpox protect themselves and their baby with their natural immunity, and are not at risk.

Chickenpox and Shingles: The connection

Shingles is a painful rash seen usually in adults (and occasionally in children), caused by the chickenpox virus. The virus lies dormant in the spinal cord for many years after the initial chickenpox infection, and may never cause problems.
In some people (sometimes triggered by stress, illnesses or immunodeficiency) the virus reappears in a band of skin corresponding to the area supplied by the affected nerve. The rash, like chickenpox, releases virus until it has scabbed. People who have never had it can catch chickenpox from people with shingles, but shingles cannot be caught from people with chickenpox.

“Non – Specific Viral Illness”

Here is what to do if your little one gets “Non – Specific Viral Illness”. Administer a few baths, along with Benedryl to clear the rash and prevent scratching. A few days of this, my son totally healed and was back to normal. It seemed as if all the pain of the illness laid on my husband and me. My son never looked in the mirror to see how bad he looked. It was like he had nothing wrong with him the whole time. If your little one doesn’t get better in a couple of days and gets worse, do see your pediatrician.

All the best,
Shannon Covert