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By Casey De Farria
Casey De Farria
05 Jul, 2022

… But why is it called ‘Fifth disease’? Facts on ‘slapped cheek’ (Fifth disease)

Fifth disease (also known as ‘slapped cheek disease’, erythema infectiosum, or Parvovirus B19) is a fairly mild viral illness, usually experienced in childhood. It is a common infection — half of all adults have been infected during their childhood!

It is called fifth disease as it was the fifth of the 5 common viral rash illnesses of childhood! #funfact

The ‘slapped cheek disease’ name comes from its most obvious symptom — a red rash that makes children’s cheeks look like they’ve been slapped, but most children who get slapped cheek do not have any symptoms, and if they do the symptoms are usually very mild.

Symptoms

If a child does experience symptoms, they can vary greatly and may take between four and 14 days after your child is exposed to slapped cheek to show;

  • The first symptoms can include fever, headache, stomach upsets, aches and pains.
  • After a few days of being unwell, a bright red rash may appear on the cheeks.
  • Your child may also have a different rash on their chest, back, arms and legs, which looks like a pink lace pattern on the skin.
  • The rashes can come and go for several weeks, or even months, especially if the skin is exposed to sunlight or after exercise.
Image Credit: NHS UK

How is it spread?

Slapped cheek is spread by touching or breathing in the coughed or sneezed fluid drops from an infected person. Children with slapped cheek are contagious until 24 hours after their fever has resolved. They will not be able to spread the infection to other people after this time, even if they have a rash.

Often parents won’t know their child has slapped cheek. However, if your child is unwell with a fever, keeping them home from child care, kindergarten or school will help prevent them spreading the illness to others.

Treatment

If your child has slapped cheek, they need plenty of rest to allow the body to fight the infection. You can give them pain relief to help them feel more comfortable if they are uncomfortable or miserable due to fever.

Because slapped cheek is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not given to children with slapped cheek as antibiotics do not treat viruses.

When do I need to see a doctor?

A few children with slapped cheek develop swelling and pain in the joints of their hands and feet. If this happens, take your child to the GP for advice on how to treat these symptoms.

If your child has sickle cell anaemia, severe anaemia, is taking long-term steroids or is immunocompromised (has a weakened immune system) due to a medical condition or medical treatment, speak to your child’s GP or medical team if you suspect your child has slapped cheek.

Also, If you are pregnant and have been exposed to someone with slapped cheek, speak to your GP.

Resources

Health Direct ‘Fifth Disease’ Fact sheet

RCH ‘Fifth Disease’ Fact sheet

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