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What is fifth disease?

The fifth disease is an infection caused by a virus called parvovirus B19 and a very common childhood illness. Adults can get it too. It is sometimes called slapped cheek disease because of the appearance of the rash.


Fifth disease can start with fever and muscle aches. Then, a very red rash may appear on the cheeks a week or so later. It looks like the child’s face has been slapped. In 1 to 4 days, a red spotted rash may appear on the arms. The rash then spreads to the rest of the body and may last from 1 to 3 weeks. The child may also have a fever. Once the rash appears, fifth disease is no longer catching.

The illness is often very mild. Sometimes a child may not even feel sick. Adults usually get a worse case with fever and painful joints.

At least 50% of adults have had fifth disease as children and will not get it again.

The fifth disease may be more severe for some people

The following people should talk to their doctor if they get the fifth disease:

  • people with immune system problems
  • children with sickle cell anemia or some other forms of anemia; it can make the anemia worse
  • pregnant women

Women who are pregnant or who may become pregnant can have a blood test to see if they are immune to fifth disease.

How fifth disease is spread

A person with fifth disease can spread it to others by coughing or sneezing. Sometimes you can get the disease just by touching the saliva or nasal discharge of a person with the disease and then touching your own eyes or mouth (e.g., from a wet tissue, a child’s hands, or a toy). A pregnant woman who gets fifth disease can pass it to her developing baby. The disease can also be spread through blood or blood products.


What to do at home

  • Watch your child for signs of fifth disease if another child in the school or centre has it.
  • When looking after a child with fifth disease, wash your hands often during the day and before preparing or eating food.
  • Call your doctor if you are pregnant and your child gets fifth disease or you are exposed to someone with fifth disease.

For generally healthy people, home treatment is usually the only care needed for fifth disease. Antibiotics are not used to treat fifth disease because a virus causes it. Antibiotics only work against infections caused by bacteria.