Fifth Disease

Fifth Disease is a common illness, a mild rash illness, that mostly occurs in children.  The “technical” name for Fifth Disease is Erythema infectiosum.

When a child has Fifth Disease, they will typically exhibit a rash on their face that looks like slapped cheek and a lacy red rash on the trunk and limbs.  The rash may itch.  Other symptoms include a low-grade fever, malaise or a cold a few days before the rash breaks out.  The child will not appear to be very ill and the rash usually goes away in a week to 10 days.

Fifth Disease is caused by infection with human parvovirus B19.   Adults can also get Fifth Disease if they are not immune to it.  An adult can either have no symptoms or develop the Fifth Disease rash, joint pain and swelling.

Fifth Disease is a contagious illness during the early part of the illness, before the rash appears.  Once a child has the slapped cheek rash, they can return to school or daycare.

Fifth Disease is spread from person to person in direct contact with respiratory secretions when sharing cups or utensils.  During school outbreaks, the Department of Health states that 10% – 60% of students may get Fifth Disease.

Fifth Disease is usually not a serious illness and it resolves on its own among children and adults who are healthy.  The parvovirus B19 infection can cause a serious illness in people who have sickle-cell disease or other types of chronic anemia.  The parvovirus B19 infection can cause a severe anemia in these individuals.  People who have immune deficiencies, organ transplants, HIV, and cancer are also at risk of a more serious illness and should seek medical attention immediately.

Treatment for Fifth Disease usually just includes treating the fever, pain and/or itching.

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