What is fifth disease?

Fifth Disease/Slapped cheek (Erythema Infectiosum)

Fifth disease is another name for erythema infectiosum, and is also called slapped cheek disease. This is a viral infection that is most common in children between the ages of two and 12. It is so called because of the characteristic rash that usually appears on the cheeks. Fifth disease is infectious and usually appears in mini-epidemics in the early spring.

What are the symptoms?

Children often experience a mild fever and will have a raised red rash on both cheeks, which soon merges to form a rosy flushed area (‘slapped-cheek’ look) on each cheek. A day or so later this rash may appear on the fingers or toes, and in some cases can be seen on the trunk and buttocks. The rash usually disappears within 10 days although it can sometimes reappear on and off for several weeks afterwards, especially with exposure to heat (such as sunshine or bath water).

The very few adults who catch the disease may also experience joint pain and swelling. There is a slightly increased risk of miscarriage or of the baby developing a condition known as hydrops fetalis if a woman catches erythema infectiosum during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. Consult your doctor if you are in contact with anyone with the illness. However, it is highly likely that you are immune as most people catch the disease in childhood.

What should I do?

If your child has a fever, give paracetamol. Remember not to give aspirin to children under the age of 12. Otherwise, no particular treatment is needed. There is no need to keep your child off school or nursery as the disease is a very mild one, and by the time the rash appears the child is no longer infectious.

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