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Fifth disease is a common childhood illness caused by a virus known as the Human Parvovirus B19.

What are the Symptoms of Fifth Disease?

It is usually a mild infection causing a skin rash and a fever. The most notable characteristic of the infection is very red cheeks – it looks like the cheeks have been slapped. That is why the term “slapped-cheek disease” is sometimes used. After that, a lacy-like, itchy rash appears on the trunk, arms and legs, which fades, but may reoccur for up to three weeks or longer after infection, especially when exposed to sunlight or heat (such as bathing). Most infected children have a short illness.

What are the Risks for Pregnant Women?

If a pregnant woman develops fifth disease, there is a chance that it can cause harm to the unborn baby. The risk is lower for exposures in the second half of pregnancy than in the first half.  Most babies infected with fifth disease recover with no concerns.

It is recommended that women who work with young children, such as day care workers or school teachers, be tested for immunity to fifth disease before they become pregnant.

Pregnant women who have been exposed to fifth disease and do not know if they are immune, should contact their health care provider right away.

How Do You Get Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease is passed from person to person through contact with infected nose and throat secretions, such as coughing, sneezing or sharing drinking glasses and utensils. The symptoms usually start to show about four to 20 days after contact with the virus.

How Long is a Person Infectious?

An infected person is most able to pass on the infection before the rash appears. Therefore, a child with fifth disease can go to school unless they are not well enough to participate in all activities.

Is There Any Treatment for Fifth Disease?

Because fifth disease is caused by a virus, there is no cure for it. Washing hands frequently, covering your mouth when coughing and sneezing and not sharing eating utensils are all ways to control the spread of this infection.

Adapted with permission from Lambton County Community Health Services Department

November 29, 2017