Fifth Disease

...less medical jargon in a 'Quick Glance' format!

Fifth Disease is an illness caused by a virus that leads to a rash on the cheeks, arms, and legs.

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  • Rash
  • .....First appears on the cheeks, often looks like "slapped cheeks"
    .....Spreads to the arms and legs about 1 day later
  • Fever
  • Joint pain
  • Temporary anemia -- this is only serious if the patient has a immune system problem and some other, existing form of anemia

  • Causes:
    This disease is caused by human parvovirus B19. It often affects preschoolers or school-age children during the spring. The disease is spread by contact with respiratory secretions and usually return for 5 days. However, the rash associated with fifth disease may return for several weeks. Return of the rash may be brought on by sunlight, heat, exercise, fever, or emotional stress.

    The first sign of the disease is usually bright red cheeks, which look as though the child has been recently slapped on both sides of the face. Following this, a rash appears on the arms and legs and middle of the body. The rash fades from the center outwards, giving it a lacy appearance. Over a period of 1 to 2 weeks, the rash completely goes away.

    It is also sometimes associated with fever.

    If a pregnant woman becomes infected with parvovirus B19, it can cause significant harm to her unborn baby. Any pregnant woman who believes that she may have been in contact with a person who has this virus should talk to her health care provider.

    Parvovirus B19 is also thought to cause other diseases, including an infectious form of arthritis.

    The majority of adults seem to have antibodies to parvovirus B19 in their bodies. This indicates that most people have been exposed to the virus, and also suggests that many infections go unnoticed.

    For normally healthy people, home treatment (including rest, fluids, and pain relievers) is usually the only care needed for fifth disease. The reappearance of a rash does not mean the condition is severe or has gotten worse. The rash often reappears from exposure to sunlight, warm temperatures, or stress.

    Antibiotics are not used to treat this because the illness is caused by a virus rather than bacteria.

    Treatment for High-Risk Groups:
    Pregnant women and people who have impaired immune systems or certain blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease or thalassemia) are at high risk for developing complications from this disease. These people need close monitoring by a health professional after exposure or if they develop symptoms of infection. Medical treatment for complications sometimes requires hospitalization.

    If you are pregnant and have been exposed to the virus that causes fifth disease, your doctor may recommend blood tests to see if you are infected or if you are immune. If you are infected, your doctor may recommend frequent fetal ultrasounds throughout your pregnancy to monitor your fetus's condition.

    Preventing the Spread of Fifth Disease:
    By the time the rash appears, you can no longer spread the disease to anyone else. After a child gets a rash, he or she may return to school or day care.

    People known to have this disease, including those who have complications, should take measures to prevent spreading the virus. It helps to wash your hands often. If people with fifth disease are hospitalized, they may be isolated from other patients.

    A vaccine against parvovirus B19 is being tested and may be available in the near future.

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    ...less medical jargon in a 'Quick Glance' format!