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The fifth disease - What are the sypmtoms in babies and toddlers?

baby with the fifth disease

What is the fifth disease or Erythema Infectiosum?

This diseaese is also known as slapped cheek disease and the fifth in a row childhood infections producing a rash.

It is a mild disease that usually resolves itself within a week to 10 days.

However, in children with some types of chronic anemia the fifth disease infection may cause complications like acute and severe anemia.

Fifth disease is caused by the human parvovirus B19 and not one of the animal parvoviruses that can not infect humans. This means your child cannot get parvovirus from your dog or cat.


Fifth disease transmission

Erythema infectiosum or fifth disease affects mostly young children between 4 and 10 but can also infect adults that have not obtained immunity as a child.

The virus is transmitted by tiny infected respiratory droplets that are spread in the air when a person coughs or sneezes.

Frequently washing your hands may help reduce the spread of the virus. The virus can also be transmitted from a mother to her unborn child.


Symptoms of the fifth diseaes

With most children the infection with the ParvoB19 virus goes unnoticed. The first symptoms start after an incubation period of 4 to 14 days. They are often mistaken for common flu with symptoms like:

  1. low grade fever
  2. malaise
  3. headache
  4. gastrointestinal problems

These symptoms are caused by the virus that enters the bloodstream and spreads through the body. As a reaction the body starts producing IgM antibodies. This is when you can also see the characteristic bright red “slapped cheek” rash on a child’s face. See pictures.

After 1 to 4 days the rash spreads to the trunk, arms and legs and has a lace-like appearance. Sometimes the rash can last up to a month and gets more intense when exposed to sunlight or during exercise.


Most adults infected with the virus do not develop a rash but suffer from painful joints and swelling of wrists, knees and ankles.

The antibodies against the Parvovirus remain and provide a life long immunity. Studies show that about 50% of all children have antibodies against fifth disease by the age of 15.

Is The fifth disease contagious?

Although Fifth disease is highly contagious there is no need to keep your child home from school.

By the time the rash is evident and it becomes clear that your child suffers from the fifth disease the child is usually not contagious anymore.


Fifth disease treatment

Children with fifth disease usually require no treatment. Your child will need some extra rest and drink plenty of fluid while the body fights the viral infection.

In cases with fever or painful joints you can give oral acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or Ibuprofen. If the rash is itchy try some plain calamine lotion and cool water for relief.

The illness may cause severe anemia when a child has a blood disorder like sickle cell anemia or a weakened immune system. In this case a child may need to be hospitalized and receive a blood transfusion.

Photo By Sandyjameslord (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons



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