Fifth Disease: Slapped Cheek Syndrome

Fifth disease, slapped cheek syndrome, and erythema infectiosum. They all refer to the same thing: a common viral illness in kids caused by parvovirus B19 (not the same parvo that dogs get). When kids get sick, they tend to have worse symptoms than adults; higher fevers, more mucous, and weird rashes. Fifth disease is one example.

 

A little history:

 

The different illness names all refer to different characteristics of the virus. It is called fifth disease because it was the fifth common childhood viral illness identified (creative name, am I right??). Slapped cheek syndrome describes the way a child’s cheeks look when he or she has the virus. And erythema infectiosum describes an “infectious reddening” of the skin, also known as a rash.

 

Fifth disease is, at its core, a mild, febrile illness with a rash. It typically affects school-aged kids, but can sometimes infect adults, too. The virus causes non-specific “cold symptoms” like stuffy nose, sore throat, cough, fever, headache, and diarrhea. I’ve written before about how viral illness tends to peak on days 3-5 of the infection. This is when kids usually have the slapped-cheek rash. Then, several days later, as the kid starts to feel better, the lace-like body rash shows up.

 

Adults who catch fifth disease will sometimes have joint aches and pain as their presenting symptom. It’s also important to note that if a pregnant mama in her first trimester gets or is exposed to fifth disease, she really needs to talk to her midwife or obstetrician.

 

The weird thing about fifth disease, though, is the rash may show up WAY later than the typical viral symptoms. The rash may even reappear after seemingly random exposures like temperature changes, sunlight, stress, and exercise. This gives fifth disease a “biphasic” course; symptoms show up when the virus is high, right after infection, but also again when the body clears the virus about 2 weeks later.

 

Make sense?

 

Here is some good news: for an otherwise healthy person, once you get fifth disease, you won’t get it again!

 

A little treatment:

 

Well, here’s the thing: there really isn’t any treatment. Fifth disease is a virus, so antibiotics won’t do a lick of good. And, if I had a really effective treatment for a virus, I probably wouldn’t need to work and could move to Hawaii…but I digress! We can, however, pick out your child’s most annoying symptoms and treat those. For instance, if you and your child are bothered by the fever, you could try an anti-pyretic such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. If your child has muscle aches and pains, ibuprofen or an Epsom salt bath are helpful.

 

You can lower your chances of getting fifth disease by washing your hands with soap and water, and not sharing food or drinks with other people (kind of obvious, I know).

 

Kids are not just little adults. We want to get the diagnosis right the first time, every time. So, when your child needs urgent care, choose the kid experts at KidMed.

 

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