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Nasty Infectious Diseases You Want To Avoid - Fifth Disease

Updated on December 31, 2008


This is a viral infection which primarily impacts red blood cells. Fifth disease is also known by the name of the "slapped cheeks" disease due to the fact that its dramatic primary symptoms include a bright crimson rash across the cheeks. The disease was named in 1899 as the fifth of the six common childhood diseases that create a rash after mumps, German measles, measles, and chicken pox. Fifth disease it is the least well known of these diseases. In the population of healthy children the illness is mild, however by the time that the rash appears the children are not contagious and are generally allowed to return to school.

Cause - The illness is caused by the parvovirus B19, which primarily occurs in small outbreaks among young children in the months of April and May. The virus was initially found in England in 1975, however it was not until 1983 that medical researchers concluded that it was the viral agent which caused fifth disease. In a similar manner to the spreading of the common cold, fifth disease is transmitted through mouth and nose secretions or from direct contact with a wide variety of household objects which may have been contaminated at some time. It may also be aerosolized in small droplets. The virus is also found in the blood of infected individuals, therefore blood transfusions can be considered a vector for the disease, and this likelihood must be examined when attempting to determine how the particular patient became infected.

Symptoms - In children, the disease usually begins with headache, slight tiredness, or muscle pain followed in a couple of days by a rash of crimson or scarlet spots on the cheeks, which soon expand into an overall red rash. In less than a week the rash will spread over the body, arms, legs, and buttocks. A slight fever in addition to the skin rash is often present. In approximately half of the cases of infection, the rash will itch. The primary symptoms which are suffered by adults include fever and joint pain, particularly in the knees, that may seem like arthritis and may be quite serious, flaring up in humid weather or early in the day. Many babies born to mothers with the infection are normal and quite healthy, even though the virus has been demonstrated to be readily able to cross the placental barrier and infect the fetus. Medical studies have shown that less than three percent of pregnant women infected with parvovirus will proceed to have spontaneous abortions or show symptoms of fifth disease, but when they are infected with the virus they begin to suffer the symptoms of a more severe infection named aplastic crisis as their bone marrow no longer creates red blood cells. At this point the patient will certainly require hospitalization and blood transfusions.

Diagnosis - Pregnant women can avail themselves of an antibody test to determine the specific immunity to parvovirus, which is generally available through regional health departments.

Treatment - Fifth disease is an ailment for which there is no current effective and generally available treatment or therapeutic program. Adults can be directed to ingest ibuprofen or another nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to attempt to ease the pain in the joints which can often be severe and debilitating.

Prevention – There is currently no way to control the spread of fifth disease.


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    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 4 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      My oldest had it, very strange disease indeed.

    • Hal Licino profile image

      Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto

      Thanks, Shirley!

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Aww, that poor baby. I'd never heard of Fifth disease. I have to wonder if some babies have had it and it was confused with something else.

      Informative and excellently written, as always, Hal.