Childhood Diseases Common Illnesses Fifth Disease

Fifth disease is an illness primarily seen in children. It’s caused by the human parvovirus B19. The main sign of fifth disease is a “slapped-cheek” rash on the cheeks. Fifth disease in children is typically not a serious illness. Keep reading to get a basic grasp on this common childhood disease.

Fifth Disease Symptoms

Typical of many childhood diseases, a rash is present with fifth disease. However, fifth disease starts with a low-grade fever, with headache and cold symptoms. These symptoms then clear and seem to be gone when the rash appears a few days later. The fifth disease rash is usually seen first on the face and has the “slapped-cheek” appearance characteristic of the illness. It then spreads from the face to the trunk and limbs, with a red, lacy appearance.

Fifth disease symptoms are usually seen in children under 10, and most don’t experience an itch associated with the rash. However, older children and adults who acquire the virus may complain of an itch. Joint swelling or pain may occur in older kids and adults as well.

Fifth Disease - Erythema Infectiosum

More on Fifth Disease in Children

Fifth disease is contagious and is spread through fluids, particularly by coughing and sneezing. Someone infected with the fifth disease virus is most contagious before the rash appears. Once the rash develops, the person is not usually contagious. Fifth disease is mild, and sometimes asymptomatic. Immunity is often developed with initial exposure to the virus, which is why it’s most often seen in children.

It is important to note that while fifth disease is not of much concern in children, it can have severe consequences for pregnant women and their unborn babies. It’s possible that the fetus can develop anemia if exposed to the fifth disease virus, though chances of this are slim. Fifth disease can also cause anemia complications in those with sickle-cell illness or compromised immune systems.

Prevention and Treatment

There is no vaccination for fifth disease. Frequent washing of hands will help to cut down on the spread of parvovirus B19, as well as other viruses and bacteria that are passed through direct contact. Since it’s most contagious before the rash is even present, it’s probably not necessary to keep children home from school if they are experiencing the fifth disease rash. Each case is different, however, so it’s best to get your pediatrician’s advice on this front.

Because fifth disease is a viral illness, antibiotics are ineffective against this common childhood disease. Typically, no medical treatment is necessary in cases of fifth disease. Give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for any discomfort associated with symptoms and make sure she gets plenty of rest. Your pediatrician may be able to give something for itch, if necessary. Be sure to contact your physician if the fifth disease rash spreads throughout the body, or if symptoms worsen. Also, call your obstetrician if you are pregnant and come in contact with fifth disease.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Staff. (2005). Parvovirus B19 (fifth disease). Retrieved December 17, 2009 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site:

Kaneshiro, N. (2009). Fifth disease. Retrieved December 17, 2009 from the Medline Plus Web site:

KidsHealth Staff (n.d.). Infections: Fifth disease. Retrieved December 17, 2009 from the Kids Health Web site: