How Do I Know If My Child Has Fifth Disease?

Reviewed on 8/12/2021

Fifth disease is a common childhood infection that causes symptoms such as a rash, fever, fatigue, body aches, and cold-like symptoms. A “slapped cheek” rash, or bright red cheeks that look like they have been slapped, is a tell-tale symptom of fifth disease.
Fifth disease is a common childhood infection that causes symptoms such as a rash, fever, fatigue, body aches, and cold-like symptoms. A “slapped cheek” rash, or bright red cheeks that look like they have been slapped, is a tell-tale symptom of fifth disease.

Fifth disease, also called erythema infectiosum, is an infection that causes a rash, fever, and other symptoms. It is called fifth disease because erythema infectiosum was once fifth on a list of childhood infections that cause rashes.

Fifth disease is most common in school-aged children, though it can occur in anyone at any age. 

A sign your child may have fifth disease is bright red cheeks even if they have not been outside in cold temperatures. This is often referred to as a “slapped cheek” rash because it looks as if the cheeks were just slapped. Bright red checks may be preceded by fatigue, body aches, cold-like symptoms, and sometimes a low-grade fever. 

What Are Symptoms of Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease often has no symptoms or mild symptoms and most people recover within a few weeks.

Initial symptoms of fifth disease may include:

After the initial symptoms, which last two to five days, symptoms can include:

  • Rash on the face
    • Sometimes called a “slapped cheek" rash because the child’s cheeks look bright red, as if they have just been slapped 
    • This rash may be harder to see on darker skin tones
  • Rash on the chest, back, arms, and legs 
    • Usually appears after the face rash
    • The rash pattern can look like lace
  • Joint pain
    • Usually affects the hands, wrists, knees, and feet
    • More common in adults 

What Causes Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease is caused by parvovirus B19 which is spread by respiratory droplets in the air after an infected person coughs or sneezes. 

It is also transmitted through blood or blood products, and a pregnant woman infected with parvovirus B19 can pass the virus to her baby.

How Is Fifth Disease Diagnosed?

Fifth disease is diagnosed with a medical history and physical examination. 

A blood test for parvovirus B19, the virus that causes fifth disease, may be used to confirm the diagnosis.

What Is the Treatment for Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease often goes away on its own without treatment. Rest and adequate hydration can help. 

Some symptoms may be treated with medications:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
    • Do not give children or teenagers aspirin as it could cause a serious condition called Reye syndrome
  • Antihistamines to relieve itching 

Antibiotics are not used to treat fifth disease because it is caused by a virus.

How Do You Prevent Fifth Disease?

People can lower the risk of getting fifth disease. 

  • Don’t share food and drinks with other people
  • Wash hands often for at least 20 seconds, with soap and water
  • Teach children to wash their hands
  • Cover the mouth and nose coughing or sneezing
  • Don’t touch your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you feel sick

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Reviewed on 8/12/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/erythema-infectiosum-fifth-disease-the-basics?search=Fifths%20Disease&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~64&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://www.cdc.gov/parvovirusb19/fifth-disease.html

https://www.saintlukeskc.org/health-library/when-your-child-has-fifth-disease#