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Childhood Illness Can Look Like a 'Slapped Cheek'

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One of the most contagious childhood illnesses, the viral infection known as fifth disease, can cause a rash that resembles a freshly “slapped cheek.” According to the Family Doctor website, fifth disease was so-named because it was fifth on the list of several childhood illnesses that also cause a rash.

These childhood illnesses include German measles (rubella), roseola, measles (rubeola), and chicken pox. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that fifth disease, or erythema infectiosum, is caused by the human parvovirus B19.

CDC stresses that this is not the same virus that dogs can be vaccinated against, nor can it be passed from animals to humans. Fortunately, most kids get over fifth disease quickly and experience mild symptoms.

Fifth disease usually affects children between the ages of five and 15, but adults can also come down with it. Symptoms present like a cold and include low-grade fever, runny or stuffy nose and headache.

A few days after the cold-like symptoms are gone, the “slapped cheek” rash appears on the face. It spreads to the trunk, arms and legs, and looks like a lacy, red rash. Sometimes the rash is itchy and may take about a week to completely disappear.

Adults who experience this viral infection may also report joint pain and swelling. The joints affected include wrists, hands and knees and discomfort can last from a week up to several months.

According to Mayo Clinic, parvovirus B19 infection may cause serious complications in pregnant women or in anyone with sickle cell anemia or a weakened immune system. Hospitalization and blood transfusions may be required for those with severe anemia.

If a patient also has a weakened immune system, he or she may be given antibodies to help fight the infection. Treatment during pregnancy includes blood transfusions or medications administered directly to the placenta.

If your child experiences discomfort from parvovirus B19, the Mayo Clinic recommends over-the-counter pain relievers for fever and aches. Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids and rest.

Although parvovirus infection is considered highly contagious, it is not necessary to isolate a sick child. Once the rash appears, and a parent realizes it is fifth disease, the child is no longer contagious.

Family Doctor. Fifth Disease. Web. 5, Dec. 2011.

Center for Disease Control. Parvovirus: B19. Web. 5, Dec. 2011.

The Mayo Clinic. Parvovirus Infection. Web. 5, Dec. 2011.

Reviewed December 6, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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