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Fifth disease (Slapped cheek disease)

2-minute read

Fifth disease also known as 'slapped cheek disease' is a fairly mild viral illness. It gets its name from its most obvious symptom – a red rash that makes children’s cheeks look like they’ve been slapped.

Causes

Fifth disease or slapped cheek disease is a viral infection caused by parvovirus B19. Outbreaks generally happen in early spring. This virus is spread through personal contact or through coughing and sneezing. It most commonly affect primary school aged children.

Symptoms

The incubation period for slapped cheek disease is about 4 to 20 days.

The infectious period is a few days before the rash appears (children are no longer contagious when the rash appears).

  • It begins with a fever, headache and runny nose.
  • A bright red rash, like the mark left by a slap, appears on the cheeks.
  • Over the next two to four days a lacy rash spreads to the trunk and limbs.
  • Children with blood disorders such as spherocytosis or sickle cell disease may become more anaemic. They should seek medical care.

What to do

  • Make sure your child rests and drinks plenty of fluids. 
  • Give them paracetamol or ibuprofen to relieve the discomfort and fever.
  • Pregnant women or women planning to become pregnant should see their doctor or midwife as soon as possible if they come into contact with the infection or develop a rash. Parvovirus can affect the unborn baby, though this is rare.

Prevention

Parvovirus is most contagious during the incubation period, around two weeks before your child develops the rash or other symptoms. Your child isn’t usually contagious once the rash has appeared.

No vaccine is currently available for slapped cheek disease. It helps to follow good hygiene and careful handwashing, especially in childcare facilities and schools, but there’s nothing else you can do to stop it spreading. There’s no need to keep your child home from childcare or school.

When to see the doctor

The virus can affect an unborn child. If you’re pregnant and you’ve become infected, or you’ve come into contact with someone with the virus, see your doctor immediately.

Last reviewed: August 2018

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