Fifth disease: what is it?

There are many illnesses that can affect children and cause parents a lot of worry, but the majority are not serious. Here we will look at fifth disease.

Fifth disease: what is it?

Fifth disease is also known as slapped cheek syndrome. It is a viral infection that affects mainly children between the ages of 3 and 15, although it can affect people of all ages.

In children it usually follows three stages. In the first stage, the child will have mild flu like symptoms, high temperature, sore throat, tiredness, headache and itchy skin. These symptoms can be so mild they often go unnoticed, but at this stage your child will be most contagious.

During the second stage the child will develop bright red rashes on their cheeks, and during the third stage the rash will spread throughout the body and can be itchy and cause discomfort.

At this stage the condition is no longer be contagious and the rash will usually go away after a few days. Once affected, a person will usually develop lifelong immunity.

Adults who contract the infection will often notice pain or stiffness of the hands, wrists, knees or ankles. In some cases they can develop fever like symptoms.

What causes fifth disease?

It is caused by parvovirus B19 and spread much in the same way as colds and flu. People are not born with immunity but develop it after being exposed - this is why many children are affected.

Is it serious?

No, not for most people. In the majority of cases it will pass without the need for treatment. Painkillers, antihistamines and lotions can be used to fight the symptoms if necessary.

In some cases fifth disease can lead to complications, especially among pregnant women, people with sickle cell anaemia and people with a weakened immune system. The infection can potentially lead to severe anaemia.

If you fall under these categories and think you may have fifth disease, you should consult a doctor. If you develop fifth disease while pregnant and have never had it before, there is a one in three chance that you will pass it onto your baby. Regular scans can check to ensure everything is OK, and if the baby shows signs of anaemia they may be treated with a blood transfusion.

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