A study investigating the causes of rash diseases using systematic laboratory testing was conducted in Niterói, Rio de Janeiro, between January 1994 to April 1998. Sera from 327 patients were tested for evidence of anti-rubella virus, measles virus, human parvovirus B19 and dengue fever virus specific immunoglobulin IgM and anti-human herpes virus type 6 (HHV-6) IgG antibodies. A laboratory confirmed diagnosis was achieved in 71.3% of the cases investigated: dengue fever (33.0%), rubella (20.2%), parvovirus B19 (9.2%), measles (6.7%) and HHV-6 (2.1%). No diagnosis was established for 94 cases (28.7%). An outbreak of measles was detected during 1997, with a peak in September and October. All of the diseases studied here presented with clinical features similar to measles and classical symptoms were found in all measles confirmed cases. The large overlap of combinations of signs and symptoms seen in this study highlights the difficulties of diagnosing a rash illness on clinical grounds alone.