Fifth's disease rash is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19. This rash is just one of several expressions of the virus, which can include arthritis and other conditions.
Fifth's Disease AKA Slapped Cheek Syndrome
The disease is considered one of five common childhood rashes, hence its name. Many of those that contract fifth's disease rash will not show any signs or symptoms of the rash. However, those that do will often develop a red skin rash on the cheeks. This has led to the nickname "slapped cheek syndrome."
Symptoms of the Condition
The condition is most common in children ages six to ten years of age. Though it is not considered life threatening, it can be somewhat uncomfortable and is accompanied by a few signs and symptoms, including:
- Cold symptoms, such as a stuffy nose
- Swollen glands
- Sore throat
- Itchy skin
These symptoms generally disappear after just a couple of days, leading many parents to believe it was just a passing cold. However, these cold-like symptoms will be followed shortly by the development of rashy cheeks. The body rash will eventually spread almost in a lace-like pattern down the body and onto the arms and legs. The rash may last up to three weeks before fading entirely. By the time the rash appears, it is usually no longer contagious.
Cases in Older Children and Adults
In older children and adults, the rash tends to itch more and may appear on the hands and feet. This type of rash may be contagious throughout the life of the condition. Additionally, teens and adults may experience joint swelling that can be uncomfortable or painful. A doctor can prescribe medications that will help ease the discomfort. In rare cases, this joint swelling can last months or even years.
Infection During Pregnancy
In most cases, pregnant mothers were exposed to parvovirus B19 earlier in life with little or no symptoms and therefore are immune to the virus in adulthood. In a small number of cases, expectant mothers who contract the virus may face increased risk of stillbirth or miscarriage.
Treatment Limited to Skin Salves
There is no real way to treat the illness, as it is a virus and immune to antibiotics. Though there are medications that treat viral infections, there is no known medication to treat fifth's disease. In nearly all cases, the rash symptoms are fairly mild and do not require any treatment.
If the rash becomes itchy, a doctor may be able to prescribe medications or salves to help with the symptoms.
Prevention Is the Best Defense
Though the virus is sometimes compared to rubella, measles and scarlet fever, there is no known vaccine available for the prevention of fifth's disease. Since those who have it are generally contagious before they realize they have the illness, it makes it quite difficult to safeguard against getting the condition. Doctors recommend encouraging your child to regularly wash his or her hands to prevent the spread of germs. It may also be a good idea to regularly sanitize your home and your child's toys to prevent germ-sharing between family members. If you suspect your child has this virus, consult a doctor for advice on how to ease symptoms and discomfort.