Flu (influenza) is a very contagious respiratory disease that can cause mild to severe illness and even death. Typical recovery time from the flu is a few days to less than two weeks.

The flu has a number of recognizable symptoms that are used in diagnosis. Rashes or hives are not among them.

That being said, there have been some case reports of rash accompanying flu. A 2011 article indicated that a rash occurs in about 2% of patients with influenza A, and in some cases for pandemic A (H1N1).

The article concluded that a rash should be considered an uncommon but existing feature of influenza infection, but that it was substantially lower in adults than children.

A 2015 study of three children with both influenza B and a rash in 2014, concluded that rash is a very uncommon manifestation of flu. The study also concluded that it was possible that the children being studied could have been infected by the flu virus and another pathogen (unidentified), or that an environmental factor was involved.

The Arizona Department of Health Services suggests that early symptoms of measles — before the rash appears — are easily confused with the flu. Common symptoms include:

One of the reasons people are concerned about flu rash is that it has recently gotten some social media and traditional media attention.

In early 2018, a Nebraska mother posted to social media a picture of her son with hives on his arm. Although he had no traditional flu symptoms, such as fever or runny nose, he tested positive for influenza. The post went viral, being shared hundreds of thousands of times.

In a story about the post, NBC’s Today Show featured Dr. William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

After sharing the details of the story with flu experts, Schaffner concluded, “It certainly is unusual. Just a rash alone without any other symptoms…” He suggested, “We’re inclined to believe this was a coincidence.”

Although rashes are not used in the diagnosis of influenza, they might be a very rare flu sign for children.

If you child has flu-like symptoms and has a rash, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician for treatment suggestions. They can determine if the rash is a sign of the flu or another condition.

If your child has fever and a rash at the same time, call your children’s doctor or seek medical attention right away, particularly if they seem ill.

Before flu season, talk about the flu with your doctor. Be sure to discuss appropriate vaccinations for you and your child.