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Facts About...

FIFTH DISEASE (Erythema Infectiosum)


What is it?

Erythema infectiosum, slapped cheek, human parvovirus, and fifth disease all refer to the same mild illness. It is caused by a virus, the human parvovirus B19.

How is it spread?

Fifth disease is spread primarily by coming in contact with the saliva, nasal and throat secretions of an infected person. Coughing, sneezing, and sharing drinking cups or utensils are common methods of spread. Fifth disease can also be spread through blood products. Children are infectious from a few days before the rash starts until the rash fades, usually 1 week to 10 days.

Fifth disease occurs most often during winter and spring. Outbreaks (common occurrences) frequently occur in children in elementary school.

What do I look for?

Fifth disease often begins with mild respiratory symptoms, fever, runny nose, headache, and generally feeling unwell. Frequently, a rash on the face appears which is intensely red with a “slapped cheek” appearance. A few days later a red, a red, lace-like rash develops on the trunk, arms and legs which may itch. The rash then fades but may come and go over the next 1-3 weeks, on exposure to sunlight or heat.

Parvovirus B19 can also infect adults, who may additionally experience fever and joint pain. Those with a weakened immune system or a chronic form of anemia may develop complications and should consult their doctor/health care provider.

More than half of women of childbearing age have had parvovirus B19 in early life and have developed immunity to this virus. However if a women is infected with the virus for the first time during pregnancy, there is a very small risk that her infant may be affected. If you are pregnant, follow up with your doctor/health care provider and immunity testing can be done. It is not necessary to be excluded from your workplace if you are pregnant. The decision to stay away is a personal decision for a woman to make after discussing the risks with her doctor and employer.

How is it treated?

Fifth disease is caused by a virus. There is no treatment. There is no need to stay out of school or work.

How can I protect myself?

  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and water or use hand sanitizers when hands are not visibly dirty.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow and encourage others to do the same.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Do not share water bottles, straws, eating utensils, cigarettes, toothbrushes, toys or anything else that has been in contact with saliva, nose or throat secretions.
  • If you are ill, stay at home and isolate yourself from others.

August 2016