What is fifth disease?
Fifth disease is an infection of the airway and lungs caused by a virus called “parvovirus B19”. It is also sometimes called “erythema infectiosum” or “slapped cheek syndrome” because of the red rash it causes. It is most common in late winter to early spring.
What are the symptoms?
The infection starts with a low-grade fever, headache and mild cold-like symptoms. A very red rash then appears on the cheeks, making the face look like it has been slapped. After 1 to 4 days, a red lace-like rash appears, first on the torso and arms and then on the rest of the body. Sometimes, this rash will be itchy. The rash may last from 1 to 3 weeks and may come and go. It can be worse with changes in the temperature and with exposure to sunlight.
The illness is often very mild. Some people may not even feel sick. Adults usually get a more severe case with fever and painful joints.
You should see a health care provider if the illness seems to be causing more serious symptoms.
How is fifth disease spread?
The virus spreads easily through the air when a person with fifth disease sneezes or coughs. It can be breathed in, or can land on surfaces and objects in the environment that are then touched by others.
The virus is most contagious several days before the rash starts. Once the rash appears, the person is no longer contagious.
A pregnant woman with fifth disease can pass the virus to her baby before birth. In most cases the baby will not have any problems, but sometimes the baby can develop a severe form of anemia.
Most people who have had fifth disease in the past will not get it again.
How is fifth disease treated?
There is no specific treatment for this illness.
You can treat mild symptoms at home.
How is fifth disease prevented?
Simple preventative measures can reduce the spread of infection.