Fifth Disease

Information about fifth disease:

What is it?  Fifth disease is a mild rash illness that usually affects children. It is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19 that infects the nose and throat and can be spread from person to person.  Most people have already had the illness by the time they are adults and cannot get it again.  The illness usually starts with a headache, sore throat, low-grade fever, or chills. These symptoms last a few days and are followed by a bright red rash on the cheeks, which look like slap marks. A “lacy” rash may then occur on the trunk and arms and legs. Symptoms can begin 4-14 days after exposure to the virus. The rash may appear on an off for several weeks. Adults may not develop the rash but may experience joint pain and swelling, particularly in the hands and feet. The disease is usually mild, and most children and adults recover without problems. People with certain blood disorders and those with weakened immune systems may develop more severe symptoms. They may also be infectious for a longer period of time.

How do you get fifth disease? When an infected person coughs, sneezes or speaks, the virus is sprayed into the air. These contaminated droplets can then be inhaled or touched by another person. Women who develop fifth disease during pregnancy may pass the infection to their unborn fetus. In rare situations, miscarriages and stillbirths have been associated with fifth disease during pregnancy, but in most cases the consequences are not dangerous.

How is it diagnosed? The diagnosis in children is based on the appearance of the rash on the face. There is a laboratory test that can tell if you had the infection in the past or more recently. These tests are usually only done for people at higher risk of complication, such as pregnant women.

How is it treated? There is no specific treatment for fifth disease. Health care providers may suggest treatment to relieve some symptoms.

How do you stop the spread of fifth disease?

1. Always wash your hands with soap and running water after wiping or blowing noses or after touching nose or throat secretions and before eating or handling food. Babies and children need their hands washed at these times, too.

2. Encourage your child not to share food, drinks, or utensils at school. When can your child return to school? Children with fifth disease do not have to stay home. By the time they are diagnosed with the rash, they are no longer contagious.

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