Keeping Kids Healthy Advice
Fifth disease is a common viral infection that normally appears in school-age children in late winter and early spring. It is caused by parvovirus B19, which is a human virus and not the same parvovirus that pets are vaccinated against. Humans cannot pass parvovirus B19 to pets and pets cannot pass the virus to humans. It is named ‘fifth disease” because it was the fifth rash-related infection identified.
Fifth disease begins with a low-grade fever, headache and mild cold-like symptoms. These symptoms disappear in a few days and then a distinctive red rash appears on the face that makes a child appear as though he or she has been slapped across the cheek. The rash spreads to the arms, legs, and trunk of the body. Other symptoms include swollen glands, red eyes, sore throat, diarrhea, unusual rashes that look like blisters or bruises, and in teen and adults, joint swelling and pain. The rash may take one to three weeks to clear completely and exposure to sunlight, heat, exercise and stress may reactivate it until it fades completely.
A person with parvovirus B19 is contagious before the rash appears when he or she has cold-like symptoms. It is spread through fluids from the mouth, nose or throat, especially droplets from coughs or sneezes, of someone that is infected with the virus. The time between initial contact with the virus and when symptoms first appear is 4 to 28 days and all symptoms disappear within one to two weeks. In a few cases, older children and adults may have joint swelling and pain that last for a few months up to a few years.
There is no vaccine to prevent fifth disease and no way to prevent the spread of the virus, but frequent handwashing is a good way to prevent the spread of any infection.
Because it is a virus, fifth disease cannot be treated with antibiotics. The illness is usually very mild and doesn’t require medication. After the mild cold symptoms pass, the only treatment required may be a topical anti-itch cream, to relieve the discomfort that the rash can cause.
In most cases, there are no complications associated with the virus, and by the time the rash appears, children normally feel well and are back to their normal activities. However, children with weakened immune systems or certain blood disorders (such as certain types of anemia) may become very ill because parvovirus B19 can temporarily slow down or stop the production of red blood cells. If you are pregnant and develop a rash or have been exposed to someone with fifth disease, call your obstetrician, as fifth disease can be dangerous to a developing fetus.
Call your child’s doctor if he or she develops a rash, especially if the rash covers the majority of his or her body and is accompanied by other symptoms.