Fifth disease is a childhood disease that appears as a bright red rash on the cheeks. It’s earned the nicknamed “slapped cheek disease” because of this rash. Fifth disease is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19. This virus is very contagious and infected people can spread it through coughing or sneezing.
Fifth disease got its name because it was the fifth viral rash disease known to affect children. The other viral rash diseases it’s grouped with include:
In most cases, fifth disease isn’t a serious medical condition and it goes away with little treatment.
Anyone can get fifth disease, but it’s most likely to happen in school-aged children. Once you are exposed to the virus, your body’s immune system builds up defenses to fight it off. This means that if you have fifth disease as a child, you will be immune to it as an adult. There are exceptions to this immunity, but typically, adults do not get fifth disease.
Fifth disease is caused by human parvovirus (parvovirus B19). It’s a virus that spreads easily, through droplets in saliva and nasal secretions. This means that it can be passed from one person to another through a sneeze or cough. This virus can also travel through a pregnant woman’s blood to her unborn baby, but this is very rarely associated with a bad outcome.
About 20% of people who get fifth disease don’t have symptoms. Still, they can pass the virus to others. The disease often starts with flu-like symptoms. During this time, the virus is most contagious. The main symptoms of fifth disease can include:
It can take several days after the onset of flu-like symptoms for the raised, slap-like rash to show up on the face or body. Once the rash appears, you are no longer contagious. The rash may be itchy. It should fade in five to 10 days. In some cases, you may see a second rash that develops after the “slapped cheek” rash. This time, the rash may be located on the:
About 10% of children with fifth disease also experience joint pain and swelling.
Fifth disease is much more common in children, but it can happen in adults. Adults who get fifth disease often develop flu-like symptoms without the rash. Along with those symptoms, about 80% of adults also develop joint pain in the wrists, hands and knees.
Fifth disease is usually diagnosed based on your symptoms. The “slapped cheek” rash is a strong sign of this condition — and when it’s accompanied by the other main flu-like symptoms — your healthcare provider can usually diagnose fifth disease in the office without any other tests. In rare cases, your provider may order blood tests to confirm fifth disease.
Fifth disease symptoms typically go away in a few weeks with minimal treatment. Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers that can treat fever, headaches and joint pain. These medicines include:
Most people recover completely from fifth disease without any long-lasting problems. Sometimes, complications can occur, including:
The virus can infect unborn babies through their mother’s blood. The virus doesn’t cause birth defects or developmental problems. If you’re pregnant and have been exposed to someone with fifth disease, contact your healthcare provider immediately.
If you have fifth disease while you’re pregnant, the virus can very rarely lead to:
However, most pregnant mothers who are infected with this virus deliver normal, healthy babies.
There isn’t a vaccine to prevent fifth disease. Because the virus spreads easily through nasal and mouth droplets, good hygiene is the best way to prevent the disease. You can reduce your family’s risk of infection by taking these steps:
Healthy children and adults tend to recover from fifth disease without complications. People who have fifth disease typically become immune to the virus. As a result, you are unlikely to get fifth disease more than once.
Reach out to your healthcare provider if you think you have fifth disease, or have been exposed to the virus. It’s also a good idea to call your provider if you have:
If your child has fifth disease, you may want to ask your doctor:
Even though fifth disease can look intimidating with its distinctive red rash, it’s usually a temporary condition that goes away with little treatment. However, it’s important to understand that fifth disease can spread easily. If a member of your family has any of the symptoms of the condition, call your healthcare provider. You may need to keep your family member away from others for a little while to keep the disease from spreading. Unfortunately, it can spread before you have symptoms and can be passed along to others without your knowledge. Talk to your provider about the timing of symptoms when your family member is diagnosed. Once diagnosed, take the time to get better before going back to daycare, school or other crowded places.
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 05/08/2020