Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD Patient Handout


About Your Diagnosis

Fifth disease is a mild, infectious viral illness that occurs in outbreaks often during the winter and spring. It is named for its position on a list of childhood diseases developed in the early 1980s. It is caused by a virus called the human parvovirus B19. It spreads by airborne particles. Symptoms generally appear 4–14 days after exposure. It affects mostly children aged 5-14 years. There is no prevention, and the child is no longer contagious after the rash appears.

Living With Your Diagnosis
A fiery red rash appears on the cheeks—the so called “slapped cheek” appearance. The rash spreads to the rest of the body and usually has a “lacy” pattern. It may fade and reappear for several days. Slight fatigue, headache, and itching may occur. Fever is uncommon. Adults may experience mild joint pain and swelling. Many cases show no symptoms at all. Complications are rare in healthy individuals. Children with sickle cell anemia have an increased risk of complications. There is a small risk of miscarriage in a pregnant woman if she is infected during the first trimester.

There is no specific treatment for fifth disease. Symptoms can be controlled. Nonaspirin products such as Tylenol can be given if a fever is present or for aches. DO NOT give aspirin to a child with fifth disease because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. The symptoms usually last 5–10 days.

The DOs
• Rest during the initial phase of the illness.
• Encourage fluid intake; no special diet is needed.
• Use cool compresses or calamine lotion if the rash itches.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t give aspirin to a child with a viral infection. There have been studies that show an increased risk of Reye’s syndrome when aspirin is given during a viral infection.
• Don’t be concerned if the rash recurs after the illness is over, especially during exposure to the sun and temperature changes.

When to Call Your Doctor
• If symptoms worsen with normal treatment.
• If symptoms of Reye’s syndrome occur, such as vomiting, restlessness, irritability, and a progressive decrease in the level of consciousness.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development