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Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse

Fifth Disease In Babies

Everything you want to know about what people commonly call “slapped cheek.”

What is fifth disease in baby?

Fifth disease is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19. Babies and toddlers with the disease develop a nonserious rash on his or her cheeks, arms and legs. While fifth disease almost never causes problems in children, it occasionally causes miscarriages in pregnant women.

What are the symptoms of fifth disease in babies?

The classic symptom of fifth disease is what’s often called a “slapped cheek” rash. If baby or toddler has bright-red cheeks for no apparent reason, he might have fifth disease. Over time, the rash spreads to the child’s arms, legs and body. Some parents describe the rash as “lacy.” Other symptoms include fever, joint pain and anemia.

Are there any tests for fifth disease in babies?

Yes, a blood test can check for B19 in the blood, but it’s almost never done on babies or toddlers. Because fifth disease causes such a distinctive rash, it’s usually diagnosed based on symptoms alone.

How common is fifth disease in babies?

It’s extremely common. The problem with fifth disease is that kids are the most contagious before the red rash appears, so it’s almost impossible to stop it from spreading at day care or in the community. By the time kids reach adulthood, most will have been exposed to fifth disease at some point.

How did baby get fifth disease?

Fifth disease is spread by respiratory droplets, which means your child can catch the disease by inhaling the cough or sneeze of an infected person. Since kids are most infectious before the onset of the rash, it’s perfectly okay to send him or her to day care with the rash, since he or she isn't really contagious at that point.

What’s the best way to treat fifth disease in babies?

Keep your child as comfortable as you can. Most kids don’t really feel sick with fifth disease, but if baby or toddler has a fever or seems uncomfortable, you can give him or her acetaminophen (Tylenol). Call your doctor or pharmacist to determine the proper dose based on your child’s weight.

What can I do to prevent baby from getting fifth disease?

“There’s very little you can do to prevent your child from getting infected,” says Jeffrey Kahn, MD, director of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. The good news is that fifth disease is almost never serious in young children.

What do other moms do when their babies have fifth disease?

“My daughter was sent home from day care yesterday with fifth disease; they told my husband not to worry about me having it, but when I read the paperwork they sent, it said 5 to 10 percent of pregnant moms that get it end up miscarrying! After freaking out, I called my nurse and looked a little online...while waiting for her to call back. It sounds like a majority of people have it as kids, similar to the chicken pox, and my mom remembers it going around when I was in junior high but doesn't remember if I had it. My daughter has the rash, so she's no longer contagious, but that means she’s been contagious the past few weeks, so basically I either have it or I don't!”

“I think [my child] has it. I’m trying to figure out if we're at the end of it, middle of it or what. I was irritated day care sent her home on Friday. Other than a runny nose and now the rosy cheeks, she's been okay. Early last week, she had a little bit of rash on her back and chest, and it went away quickly. Her cheeks were bright-red today, but [I read that] the back and chest rash is supposed to be after the red cheeks.... She had rosy cheeks last weekend, which I assumed was teething.”

“My [kids both] had a low-grade fever and the red cheeks. I honestly wasn’t sure whether they were red because of the fifth disease or just from the fever, but there were no cold symptoms. So I kept them at home just in case. Then a few days later, when I was taking them out of the bath, I noticed the lacy rash on the body. No cold symptoms. By the time you notice the ‘slap cheek’ look and the lacy rash, they’re no longer contagious.”