Now that the weather is getting warmer you may think that the cold and flu season is behind you, but when you're a parent it seems that there is an endless list of viruses and illnesses that strike regardless of the time of year.
Children are curious and adventurous and incredibly messy, which makes the transmission of viruses so much more common. No matter how often you may encourage your child to wash their hands often and practice good hygiene, it's inevitable they will pick up some kind of mild illness either from the playground, school, daycare, or playgroup.
Fifth disease is one of those childhood ailments that often sounds worse than it is, thanks to its name. Fifth disease is actually a very common virus that many children, most commonly between the ages of 5 and 15, will come down with at some point. Often referred to as "slap cheek" thanks to the signature bright red rash it can leave on the faces of those who have the virus, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that fifth disease is caused by the parvovirus B19 and is generally a mild illness. The virus got its name from being one of five common childhood ailments that featured a rash as a symptom.
Fifth disease is highly contagious before the rash appears, so most people don't know they even have it while they are spreading it. Coughing and sneezing help spread the disease which is why it is easily transmitted among young people.
Rashes can be common in children, so how can you tell if you think your child may have fifth disease? As Kids Health by Nemours points out, the initial symptoms of fifth disease tend to be quite similar to the symptoms of the flu and include fatigue, lingering low fever, sore throat, upset stomach, runny nose, and stuffy nose. Those symptoms may even pass, with the rash showing up anywhere between 4 and 14 days after the initial symptoms. The rash typically begins on the face before spreading to the trunk, arms, and legs.
The rash may cause itchiness, and usually lasts anywhere from one week to 10 days, the CDC reports, noting that while it may initially fade, it can "come and go for several weeks." As the rash begins to fade it can take on a "lacy" or splotchy look.
While it's mostly children who get fifth disease, adults can contract the virus as well. Joint pain and swelling is a common symptom in adults or older teens and is often felt in the hands and wrists as well as knees and ankles.
Unfortunately, since fifth disease is actually a virus, it's not treatable by antibiotics. Healthline suggests taking Tylenol if your child has symptoms that include headache pain or joint swelling or stiffness, but other than that, rest and lots of fluids are the one thing a person can do to help their body heal on its own. Once the rash makes an appearance a child is no longer contagious, so they can return to school if they're feeling well enough.
Most people who have fifth disease don't need to see a doctor, but if your child has sickle cell anemia, an impaired immune system or if you are pregnant and around a child with fifth disease, The Mayo Clinic suggests contacting your physician.
While fifth disease is generally mild in most people, it can have a more serious effect on children or adults who have a weakened immune system or certain blood disorders like sickle cell anemia and anemia. As Kids Health notes, the parvovirus B19 can stop or slow the production of red blood cells which can result in serious illness for those who have a blood disorder. If a pregnant woman comes in contact with the virus and isn't immune, there could also be the potential of damage to the fetus.
If you think you have been in contact with fifth disease and you have a weakened immune system or are pregnant, you should contact your doctor.
While there is no treatment or cure for fifth disease, there are good practices you can encourage your children to follow to try to minimize transmission of the virus and hopefully prevent them from getting it in the first place. Encouraging your child to wash their hands often using soap and water is key to helping keep them healthy, as is making sure they cover their mouth and nose when they are coughing and sneezing. Teaching them to cough and sneeze into their elbow also helps to minimize contact with fluids that may transmit the virus. Keeping children home when they are sick is also very important when it comes to limiting the transmission of this, and many other viruses. Teaching kids to keep their hands away from their eyes, nose, and mouths is also helpful in preventing the spread of viruses.
Fortunately, fifth disease is a relatively harmful illness for most children. Although it can cause discomfort and flu-like symptoms, the virus should pass in just under two weeks. Knowing the symptoms may help further prevent the spread of the virus. If you suspect your child has come in contact with fifth disease try to keep them home and away from other children until they are no longer contagious.