Fifth Disease

What is fifth disease?

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A skin disease that often occurs with children, fifth disease is a form of rash that appears on the child’s face and is caused by parvovirus B19.

The rash looks like a red large patch on the face of a child often resembling a slapped cheek, which is why it is also referred to as “slapped cheek syndrome” in some parts of North America. The rash begins in the face but it can spread down to the arms, trunks and can even reach the legs of the child. It rarely lasts for more than three weeks and oftentimes it appears on kids 5 to 15 years old although some older kids do experience this condition and those children experience joint swelling and pain as well.

Symptoms of fifth disease start with a mild fever and a runny or stuffy nose. This condition may confuse some parents because it doesn’t start appearing while the child is having a fever. When the fever is over it will appear a few days afterward.

When the rashes appear it starts off on the cheeks and spreads toward the arms and trunk in red blotches, which are usually lighter in shade. After that the rashes will start to become itchy and it will look like a net. Also, fifth disease can lead to swollen glands, diarrhea, joint pains and joint swelling but more for older teens and adults.

Sometimes the rashes can develop and look like blisters or bruises but according to experts this is very rare.

Etymology of fifth disease

In the late 1800s, measles, German measles and scarlet fever often occurred amongst children as fifth disease was the fifth most common rash to inflict children.

What Causes Fifth Disease

This rash was first found as early as 1799 by Robert Willan, an English physician who pioneered the classification of cutaneous diseases based on the morphological features of the dermatological disease. Willan discovered rashes on children that would soon be classified as “fifth disease.” Although it was only in 1975 when this disease was found to be linked to the parvovirus B19.

How it spreads

Fifth disease is contagious and this disease spreads as droplets in the air so it is imperative that your child be protected from other kids who are sneezing and coughing. One way to protect them is to have them wear a face mask during seasons wherein this disease is most prevalent (winter and spring).

Fifth disease can also spread through blood and it could even infect the placenta of a pregnant woman. According to experts, outbreaks of fifth disease often occur during springtime but the good thing about this disease is that most children who have been inflicted with this disease get lifelong immunity afterward.


  • Nasal congestion
  • Low-grade fever (although very rare, occurring only 15% to 30% of the time)
  • Mild sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle ache
  • Headaches

After these symptoms show up the child will exhibit red cheeks (slapped cheek syndrome) after seven to ten days. Normally the rashes will disappear after four days.

Despite these symptoms it would still be better to consult a physician in order to effectively determine if your child has fifth disease.

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