What Is A Maculopapular Rash?

A maculopapular rash is a very common type of rash. As its name would suggest, this type of rash can include both macules and papules. A macule is a spot on the skin that appears as a different color from the surrounding skin. It usually looks pink or red in color. Unlike most types of rashes, a macular rash consists of an area of skin that harbors discolored spots that are not raised bumps, nor are they depressions in the skin. A papule is a solid bump on the skin that is not filled with puss or any other type of fluid. A papular rash consists of many bumps that may be red, purple, pink, or even brown in color. As you might have guessed by now, a maculopapular rash is made up of both flat, discolored macules and bumpy papules.

The sight of a maculopapular rash can be a little disconcerting and it definitely makes one wonder what caused the rash to pop up. Below are a few conditions that are often accompanied or even characterized by a maculopapular-type rash.


Measles, also known as rubeola, is a very contagious disease that most of us are familiar with—usually by associating it with the lot of mandatory vaccinations that most of us had to have as children. The measles is a viral infection that is spread through contact with fluids from an infected person, such as snot or saliva. This usually occurs by being sneezed or coughed upon. This was once considered to be a major childhood disease and, back before vaccinations, children were at risk of death from measles. Even today, hundreds of thousands of young children die from measles—although the majority of this number is caused by failure to vaccinate, especially in economically-declined countries.

The measles usually lies dormant for about a week before symptoms start to crop up. The first sign is usually a high fever, which is closely joined by a runny nose, coughing, bloodshot eyes, excessive watering of the eyes, and sensitivity to light. Around this time there may also be white spots on the inside of the cheeks. After about four or five days the maculopapular rash will show up, usually on the head and face and then gradually spreading to the trunk and limbs. The rash will stick around for about a week before it fades away. The rash typically doesn’t show up until one to two weeks after the onset of measles, which means that you (or your child) will be contagious before the tell-tale rash even shows up.

As eye and ear infections, as well as pneumonia, are common complications of the measles which is why most doctors will prescribe a preventative antibiotic to help lessen the chances of development for these infections. Vitamin A supplements can be a huge help in preventing vision damage caused by this virus, but in general, the best treatment for the measles is to take extra care with fluids and nutrition while the virus runs its course. As for the rash, it may look menacing but it simply must be allowed to be until its fades naturally.

Scarlet Fever

Before antibiotics, scarlet fever had an infamous reputation for being potentially fatal illness, particularly in children between the ages of four and eight. Scarlet fever is caused by the same bacteria that causes strep throat and it is primarily contracted by inhaling the airborne bacteria, but it can also be transmitted through skin to skin contact with a person suffering from an active scarlet fever infection.

The time between coming into contact with the virus and actually showing symptoms is very short for this disease—around a day or two. The first symptoms to show up are usually a fever and a sore throat. These symptoms may then be followed by a maculopapular rash that primarily affects the throat to begin with but rapidly spreads down the chest and over the rest of the body. Aside from seeing the rash, the give-away in confirming scarlet fever is usually to feel the rash, which should somewhat resemble sandpaper. Other symptoms that can occur with scarlet fever include headache, muscle and joint aches, stomach pain, and vomiting. It is also common to experience redness and swelling of the tongue as well as redness in the armpit and groin areas.

A trip to the doctor should occur as soon as one suspects that they (or their child) has scarlet fever. Antibiotic treatment should be administered early on in the infection to avoid a serious complication called rheumatic fever. The initial symptoms should start to fade after a few days into the antibiotic treatment however the rash may remain for up to three weeks.


Rubella is another possible cause behind a maculopapular rash. Also known as the German measles, this viral infection most commonly affects children although it can occur in people of any age. It typically lasts one to three days and due to its mild symptoms it is not uncommon for rubella to go unnoticed or undiagnosed. It is an airborne illness that has an incubation period of two to three weeks—that is, the time from which a person is exposed to the virus to the time that they begin to notice symptoms. Rubella usually starts off with flu-like symptoms, including a mild fever, achiness, and chills. A maculopapular rash will show up on the face and spread very quickly to the rest of the body. It is typically gone in three days however a person with rubella will be contagious one week before the onset of the rash and up to a week afterward.

As rubella is a virus, there is nothing that can be done to eradicate it—it must simply run its course. Over the counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can be used to help restore comfort.