What is Fifths Disease?
Fifths disease is a relatively common illness caused by the human parvovirus B19. Children aged 5-10 are most likely to contract fifths disease, also known as “slapped cheek” disease because of the distinctive rash that appears on the child’s cheeks, as though he has been freshly slapped.
How is Fifths Disease Identified?
Fifths disease generally begins with a low grade fever, possibly accompanied by mild cold symptoms or headache. However, these early symptoms may be absent due to the varying degrees to which individuals contract the illness. The most distinctive characteristic is the rash that develops on the child’s body. The rash typically begins as bright red splotches on the cheeks and then spreads throughout the back, neck, chest, and possibly the arms and legs. The rash that spreads does not look like the bright red rash noticed on the cheeks, but rather consists of small pink dots that may appear pimply, lacy, and be raised or flat. Fifths disease is confirmed only through blood testing.
Thankfully, fifths disease is usually not bothersome to children. Other than managing the fever for the first few days, the rash itself does not usually cause itching or discomfort. Older children and adults who contract fifths disease sometimes complain of itching. For women who develop the disease, symptoms may include joint pain, similar to that caused by arthritis. The Centers for Disease Control reports that joint pain may continue anywhere from 1 week to several months.
How long does Fifths Disease Last?
The fever that signals the start of fifths disease usually only lasts for about 3 days. According to kidshealth.org, the rash may be evident for 10 days and can disappear and reappear for up to 3 weeks afterward. Often the rash is worsened through exposure to sun, exercise or emotional stress.
How is Fifths Disease Spread?
Fifths disease is spread through contact with an infected person. According to a UK women’s health website, parents of infected children who have not had the disease themselves have a 50-90% likelihood of contracting it themselves. However, once a person has had the virus, he will become immune and not at risk of getting it again.
How is Fifths Disease Treated?
Though called a “disease,” fifths disease is really a virus which must be fought off by the body. No medications are prescribed for fifths disease. The common approach is to treat the fever and avoid exercise and sunlight to keep the control the appearance of the rash. Fifths disease is harmless to children and uncomfortable for adults, but causes no long term damage. A note should be made that pregnant women who are exposed to fifths disease during the first half of pregnancy face special risks. If the mother has never had the illness herself, the disease may be passed to her unborn baby, increasing her risk of miscarriage.