Fifth's Disease

Fifth disease is an illness caused by the human parvovirus. Children between 3 and 15 years of age are most commonly infected. The illness is most common in the late winter and spring, with outbreaks in schools and day care settings. The illness got the name "Fifth Disease" because it is the fifth childhood illness with a rash similar to measles and German measles. The other name for this illness is "erythema infectiosum." Erythema means "redness of the skin", and infectiosum means "contagious with an infection".

This illness is spread by small droplets in the air when an infected child coughs or sneezes directly on another child. The infected child is most contagious before the rash appears. Other children develop symptoms within 2 to 14 days. The virus can also be passed in blood transfusions and across the placenta to unborn babies.

What are the symptoms of Fifth Disease?
The child usually has the symptoms of a mild cold such as a slight fever, sore throat, runny nose, headache and fatigue. At about 4 to 14 days after the cold symptoms, a bright red rash breaks out on the face that has a "slapped cheek" appearance. The rash is warm but not tender to the touch. A few days later a pink, slightly raised, lacelike rash appears on the arms and legs. It then spreads to the chest and buttocks. The rash on the face fades. The rash disappears about 5 to 10 days later. It can reappear for several weeks if the skin is irritated or the body is exposed to cold, heat, sunlight or emotional stress.

How is this illness treated?
There is no special treatment needed for this illness. Lotion or ointment on the skin may help itching. There is no reason to exclude the child from school. By the time the rash appears, the child is no longer contagious.

Are there any special concerns with this illness?
If pregnant women get the infection, it can be passed through the placenta. A small percentage of fetuses die as a result of the infection.

Source: Mosby's Pediatric Patient Teaching Guides, Mosby-Year Book, Inc.

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