Fifth Disease (Parvovirus B19)

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What is fifth disease?

  • It is a very common viral infection of the respiratory system caused by parvovirus B19. Antibiotics will not help treat fifth disease.
  • Fifth disease is also known as “slapped cheek syndrome” because of the rash it causes on the face.
  • Fifth disease is a very common infection in child care settings, schools and the general community.

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What are the symptoms?

  • Most children with fifth disease have very mild symptoms and sometimes no symptoms at all.
    • Mild fever or cold and a rash : Generally, it starts as a mild fever or cold followed by a very red rash on the cheeks, making the face look as if it has been slapped.
    • The rash spreads : 1 - 4 days later, a red, lace-like rash spreads first on the torso and arms, and then on the rest of the body.
      • The rash may last from 1 - 3 weeks and can vary with changes in temperature and exposure to sun.
      • Usually, by the time the rash appears kids are feeling well and are back to their usual activities.
  • Adults typically get a more severe case, with fever and some joint pain.
    • At least 50% of adults have had fifth disease in childhood and will not get it again.

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How does it spread?

  • The virus spreads the same way as a cold virus does.
  • You can get the disease after coming in contact with secretions from the nose, mouth or throat of somebody who has it.
    • The virus can be found on objects, hands, and in the air.
  • There is no reason to isolate someone with fifth disease. It does not prevent the spread of the infection.
  • Once the rash appears the person can no longer spread the infection.

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Can fifth disease be serious?

Not usually, but some people may have complications:

  • Severe anemia may occur in children with:
    • weakened immunity (such as leukaemia)
    • certain blood disorders (like sickle cell anemia)
  • There is a very low risk for pregnant women that their unborn child may become infected and develop anemia before birth.

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What can parents do?

  • Remind your child to wash his/her hands often with soap and water and not to share utensils and drinking cups
  • Your child may continue attending a childcare facility or school if feeling well enough to take part in the activities.

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What if you are pregnant and know that you have been exposed to fifth disease?

  • Contact your healthcare provider.
  • If you're immune: At least 50% of pregnant women have had fifth disease in the past and are already immune, in which case they will not get it again or pass it to their unborn baby.
  • If you're not immune: There is a small risk that your baby may be affected. Usually exposure to this virus does not result in serious harm to baby.
  • If you are unsure of your immune status , and are either pregnant or planning a baby, you should discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider.
    • A blood test may be considered to check your immunity.
  • Frequent hand-washing and not sharing cups/utensils can help prevent infection.
  • For more information: www.motherisk.org
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