Fifth disease is a viral illness that causes a condition called an exanthem. An exanthem is another name for a rash or skin eruption. Fifth disease is also known as erythema infectiosum and as "slapped cheek" disease because the rash can cause a child's cheeks to become quite red. Fifth disease is spread from one child to another through direct contact with fluid from the nose and throat. It can also be spread through contact with infected blood. It is moderately contagious.
Fifth disease is caused by the human parvovirus B19. It happens most often in the winter and spring. It is most common in school age children. Children often get it at school or other places where children gather. Adults can get fifth disease too, but most infections are in children.
Symptoms usually show up 4 to 14 days after being exposed to the disease. About 80 percent of children have very mild symptoms for about a week before getting the rash. About 20 percent will have no symptoms at all before the rash appears. Children are most contagious before the rash occurs. Therefore, children are contagious before they even know they have the disease. The following are the most common symptoms of fifth disease. However, symptoms can be different for each child.
Fifth disease is usually a mild illness. However, parvovirus B19 infection may cause an acute severe anemia in persons with sickle-cell disease or immune deficiencies. There is a small risk of fetal death if fifth disease is acquired during pregnancy.
The symptoms of fifth disease are similar to other conditions or medical problems. Always see your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Your child's healthcare provider will do a complete medical history and physical examination of your child. This may be enough to diagnose fifth disease as the rash and progression of fifth disease are unique. Your child's provider may also order blood tests.
The goal of treatment is to help reduce symptoms. Since it is a viral infection, there is no cure for fifth disease. Treatment may include:
The best ways to keep fifth disease and other illnesses from spreading include hand-washing with soapy water, and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.