Fifth disease is a viral illness that is caused by parvovirus B19. Also known as erythema infectiosum, it is especially common in kids between the ages 5 years to 15 years. Fifth disease causes a distinctive red rash on the face that looks like a ‘slapped cheek’. In a course of a few days, the rash spreads to other body parts like trunk, arms and legs and it usually lasts for 1-3 weeks. In older kids and adults, it may cause swelling and pain in joints that can last from weeks to months, and rarely, years.
Signs and Symptoms:
The initial symptoms are a low fever, headache, and mild cold-like symptoms. The rash starts to appear a few days later after the other symptoms have passed. The rash is bright red and usually starts on the face and then the red blotches appear on arms and legs. After a few days, the itchy rash takes a net-like appearance. Sometimes the fifth disease also can cause swollen glands, red eyes, sore throat, diarrhoea, and rarely, rashes that look like blisters or bruises. Joint swelling or pain (often in the hands, wrists, knees, or ankles) can sometimes happen, especially in adults and older teens.
For children and adults, who are otherwise healthy, the fifth disease is mild. But it can cause serious health complications with weakened immune systems caused by leukaemia, cancer, organ transplants, or HIV infection. It can cause chronic anaemia that requires medical treatment.
Parvovirus B19—which causes the fifth disease—spreads through respiratory secretions (such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus) when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You are most contagious when it seems like you have “just a cold” and before you get the rash or joint pain and swelling. After you get the rash you are not likely to be contagious, so then it is usually safe for you or your child to go back to work or school. People with the fifth disease who have weakened immune systems may be contagious for a longer amount of time. Parvovirus B19 can also spread through blood or blood products. A pregnant woman who is infected with parvovirus B19 can pass the virus to her baby. Once you recover from the fifth disease, you develop immunity that generally protects you from parvovirus B19 infection in the future.
Usually, the fifth disease is diagnosed by the doctors by seeing the distinctive rash on the face and the body. If someone has not developed a rash, but other symptoms persist, a blood test can be done to see if you are susceptible or immune to Parvovirus B19. The blood test is particularly helpful for pregnant women.
There is no vaccine that can prevent parvovirus B19 infection. You can, however, prevent infection or infecting others by:
1. Washing your hands often with soap and water
2. Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
3. Not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
4. Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
5. Staying home when you are sick
Fifth disease cannot be treated with antibiotics as it is a viral disease. Mostly, it is a mild illness that clears up on its own. The kids with the fifth disease just need to rest. After the fever and cold symptoms are gone, there may be little to treat except any discomfort from the rash.