Fifth disease was given its name because it’s the fifth in a list of viruses that can cause rashes in children (the other four are chicken pox, rubella, measles and roseola). Its other name is Parvovirus B19. This might sound a little scary to you, since you may have heard of a canine parvovirus that is very serious for dogs. While in the same family as the canine virus, Parvovirus B19 is only a human virus and cannot be transmitted either from dogs to people or from people to dogs. In children, Parvovirus B19—fifth disease—is relatively common and generally quite benign.
Fifth disease in children is not usually dangerous, unless the child has anemia or an autoimmune disease. It’s contagious through the droplets of coughing and sneezing or through saliva (or from a pregnant mother to her fetus), and can show up 4 to14 days after exposure. Frequent hand washing is the best way to reduce the spread of viruses.
The first symptoms are similar to those of a cold: runny nose; mild fever; itching; soreness; headache. A few children experience achy joints.
After a week or so, a red rash may appear on the cheeks. It may, over the next few days, also appear on the torso and arms, buttocks and thighs. Within another week, the rash will likely fade. It might return, even months later, when the child gets overheated. By the time the rash appears, the child is no longer contagious.
When should you call our office? If your child has anemia, especially sickle cell anemia, or an autoimmune condition, call right away. Fifth disease can be dangerous for these patients. Also, if your child develops joint swelling or if symptoms worsen over time instead of improving, call us.
In normal cases, we treat symptoms with acetaminophen to reduce fever, or antihistamines to control itching. However, sickle cell patients and some others may need to be hospitalized because the blood counts can be seriously compromised. A pregnant woman with fifth disease should also be seen by a physician, because serious complications can occur.
Most of the information in this article came from the American Academy of Pediatrics article on the subject, which you can read here.
Fifth disease is more common late winter through spring, so you may want to keep an eye out for it this time of year. The good news is that most children will develop only mild symptoms that will go away without treatment.
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