Skin rash is a common symptom of HIV infection in babies and children. You may notice small clusters of red itchy bumps or flaky, dry skin patches. Medications used to treat HIV may also cause mild to severe skin rash.

HIV attacks the CD4+T cells (also known as T4 cells), which are a part of the body’s immune system. Over time, HIV weakens the immune system, making your child more susceptible to infection and other illnesses.

HIV-related rash typically develops within the first 2 months of initial HIV infection and can last several weeks.

Early diagnosis and treatment can improve the long-term outlook for an infant or young child with HIV. In this article, we’ll discuss rash identification, options for treatment, and when to seek medical attention.

Babies (up to 1 year of age)

Infant diagnosis poses a few potential hurdles. The skin rash associated with HIV — an itchy red or discolored patch with small bumps — contact may resemble other viral infections, which can delay diagnosis and treatment.

Mild, flu-like symptoms may develop within 2 months of your child’s initial exposure to HIV. Symptoms include:

Toddlers and young children

Symptoms in children older than 1 year are divided into mild, moderate, and severe.

Mild symptoms include an itchy rash that commonly appears on the face and chest. It can also cause mouth ulcers and sometimes appear on the hands and feet.

Moderate symptoms include constant or reoccurring diarrhea, persistent fever or oral thrush, and complicated chickenpox.

Severe symptoms may not surface for up to 2 years in children born with HIV. Persistent lesions and open blisters are signs of severe side effects.

Early diagnosis with prompt treatment is the best weapon against HIV-related symptoms. Standard HIV testing can be started shortly after birth and is an effective tool for diagnosis at any age. If your child is older than 18 months, rapid antibody testing can also be used to identify HIV infection.

If your child already has an HIV diagnosis and has developed a related rash, your family’s pediatrician may recommend a combination of over-the-counter medications and behavioral modifications to treat the affected area.

Topical hydrocortisone cream, for example, offers short-term relief from itching. Depending on your child’s age, your pediatrician may also recommend oral antihistamines.

Always consult a clinician before giving young children new medication. Your child’s pediatrician can provide important safety information, including correct dosage and risk of interactions.

Be sure to keep your child out of direct sunlight to prevent further inflammation. Hot baths or showers are also a no-go until the rash heals.

Young children may also benefit from a swaddle or mittens to prevent scratching.

If you’re unsure about the nature of the rash or think your child has been exposed to HIV, make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. Recurring itchy patches or mouth sores may be an early sign of a compromised immune system.

Be sure to mention specific changes in your child’s skin to help your physician reach a diagnosis more quickly. The sooner treatment can begin, the better the chance of suppressing the virus and maintaining a healthy viral load.

Catasha Gordon is a sexuality educator from Spencer, Oklahoma. She’s the owner and founder of Expression Over Repression, a company built around sexual expression and knowledge. You can typically find her creating sex education materials or building some kinky hardware in a fresh set of coffin nails. She enjoys catfish (tail on), gardening, eating off her husband’s plate, and Beyoncé. Follow her everywhere.