Fifth disease, also called slapped cheek disease, is a viral infection that most often affects children. The infection gets its name from the red rash on the face, making it appear that the child has been slapped.
The virus that causes fifth disease, parvovirus B19, is spread through close contact with an infected person, such as sharing utensils or touching an infected surface. The incubation period, or the time from exposure to when symptoms first appear, is usually four to 14 days.
What Does Fifth Disease Look Like?
Fifth disease typically starts with a low-grade fever, runny nose, and sore throat. These symptoms are followed by a red rash on the face, which can spread to the arms, legs, and trunk. The rash is usually most pronounced on the cheeks, giving the disease its nickname, “slapped cheek disease.”
The rash usually lasts for about two weeks. In some cases, the rash may come and go for several weeks. Fifth disease is usually a mild illness, but it can be more severe in people with weakened immune systems, such as pregnant women and people with cancer or HIV/AIDS.
How Do Kids Get Fifth Disease?
The human parvovirus B19 is spread through close contact with respiratory secretions, such as saliva, mucus, or blood. It is most commonly spread through coughing or sneezing. The virus can also be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces, such as doorknobs, toys, or linens.
How Is Fifth Disease Treated?
There is no specific treatment for fifth disease. The virus usually goes away on its own in a few weeks. In the meantime, you can help your child feel more comfortable by:
- Applying a cool, damp cloth to the rash
- Giving your child plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration
- Giving your child over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain
If your child has a weakened immune system, they may be at risk for more serious complications from fifth disease. In these cases, your child may need to be treated in the hospital with intravenous fluids and other supportive care.
Is Fifth Disease Deadly?
Fifth disease is usually a mild illness in children but can be more severe in adults, particularly pregnant women. The virus can cause a potentially fatal condition called hydrops fetalis in pregnant women, which results in an accumulation of fluid in the fetus. However, this is rare, and most pregnant women with fifth disease will have a healthy baby.
How Can I Prevent My Child from Getting Fifth Disease?
The best way to prevent fifth disease is to ensure your child is up-to-date on their vaccinations. The virus is most commonly spread through respiratory secretions, so it’s also important to teach your child to wash their hands often and avoid close contact with sick people.
What Are the Long-Term Effects of Fifth Disease?
Most people who contract fifth disease will recover without any long-term effects. However, some people may experience joint pain and swelling, particularly in the hands and feet, that can last for months or even years. In rare cases, fifth disease can cause damage to the heart, brain, or other organs. If you or your child has fifth disease, it is important to monitor for any long-term effects and seek medical attention if any develop.
Fifth disease, also known as parvovirus B19, is a highly contagious viral illness most commonly seen in children. Although the illness is usually mild, it can cause severe complications in people with certain medical conditions, such as sickle cell disease, HIV, or cancer. If you or your child has fifth disease, it is important to monitor for any long-term effects and seek medical attention if any develop.
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