All about fifth disease

Fifth disease is another name for Parvovirus B19, a common viral illness in children. Fifth disease has also been called ‘slap cheek disease’ because of the tell-tale red rash children develop on their cheeks when they have the illness. Fifth disease is also called erythema infectiosum. Fifth disease got its name because it was the fifth of a group of viruses that produced similar symptoms. The other four illnesses are measles, rubella, scarlet fever and Dukes’ disease.

What Causes it?

Fifth disease is a human parvovirus and not the same as the parvovirus found in animals. You cannot catch Fifth disease from animals. About 50% of the adult population has already been infected with Fifth disease. Once you are infected with the virus, you remain immune to it for the rest of your life. It most commonly affects children under 10 years of age, however some adults may get this if they are not immune from childhood.

Is it serious?

Fifth disease is generally not serious and usually produces very mild symptoms. In a very small percentage of pregnant women, Fifth disease may cause anaemia in unborn babies or miscarriage.

Can I prevent it?

Like most viruses, Fifth disease is best prevented by thorough hand washing. Teach your children to wash their hands often with soap and water. Kids who get Fifth disease are contagious for the week before the rash appears, so once you find out that your child or another child that he plays with has Fifth disease, exposure has probably already occurred.

How do I know if my child has Fifth disease?

Fifth disease often starts with cold-like symptoms. Your child might have a runny nose and slight fever a few days before a rash breaks out on his cheeks. The rash may spread to his torso and may or may not itch.

How do I treat it?

Fifth disease generally goes away in a week to ten days with little or no treatment. You can use paracetamol to relieve any discomfort due to fever or minor achiness. It is important to make sure your child has plenty of rest and drinks lots of water to stay hydrated.

Should I call the doctor?

Call the doctor if your child’s fever is higher than 38.9°C or if he is anaemic or has a compromised immune system.

What you need to know about Fifth disease

  • Fifth disease is commonly known as ‘slap cheek disease’.
  • Other names for Fifth disease include Parvovirus B19 and erythema infectiosum.
  • Fifth disease is best prevented by washing hands often with soap and water.
  • You cannot catch Fifth disease from animals.
  • Fifth disease is usually very mild and goes away in about a week with little or no treatment.

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