Fifth Disease During Pregnancy

Fifth disease is pretty common and not a big deal, unless you have it during pregnancy. Learn what it is and how to keep baby safe.
ByJennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse
Apr 2017
close-up pregnant belly

What is fifth disease during pregnancy?

Parvovirus B19 is a virus that infects people and causes a disease commonly known as “fifth disease.” (It’s not the same as the parvovirus that infects dogs and cats.) Because kids are most likely to get (and spread) fifth disease, teachers and day care providers are frequently exposed to parvovirus—and, yes, it can sometimes be passed to an unborn baby.

What are the signs of fifth disease during pregnancy?

The most common sign of fifth disease is a lacy red rash—sometimes called “slapped-cheek” rash, as it tends to appear on the cheeks—though this is much more common in children than adults.  Joint pain is usually the symptom most associated with the virus in adults.

Are there any tests for fifth disease during pregnancy?

Yep. A blood test can detect parvovirus.

How common is fifth disease?

It’s very common. “Most people have already had fifth disease by the time they reach adulthood,” says Michelle Collins, CNM, an assistant professor of nurse-midwifery at Vanderbilt University. About half of all adults in the US have already been infected, either as kids or teens. The good news is that once you have parvovirus, you develop immunity to it, so you’re unlikely to get it again.

How did I get fifth disease?

You were probably around someone who had it. Parvovirus can be spread through the air, by hand-to-mouth contact and through blood.

How will fifth disease affect my baby?

Parvovirus can be passed to the baby through the placenta—but that only happens when a woman who has never had fifth disease develops an active infection during her pregnancy. In other words, you probably don’t need to worry about parvovirus if you’ve had it before. Rarely, the infection causes severe anemia in the baby that can lead to miscarriage (see next page for treatment tips).

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What’s the best way to treat fifth disease during pregnancy?

It’s a viral infection, so fifth disease usually just runs its course. If you think you’ve been exposed during your pregnancy, tell your doctor. He’ll want to check your immune status. If you develop an active infection during pregnancy, your doctor may order additional testing to monitor the health of your baby.

What can I do to prevent fifth disease during pregnancy?

Wash your hands! Parvovirus is most contagious before people get symptoms, so you don’t really know who has it. You just need to try to stay germ-free.

What do other pregnant moms do when they have parvovirus?

“I went to the ob-gyn, and she said it looks like parvovirus and ran blood work for that and chicken pox. She also told me that parvovirus is one of the few viruses that can reach the baby through the placenta, so if I do have it, I’ll have to have weekly growth ultrasounds.”

Are there any other resources for fifth disease during pregnancy?

Plus, more from The Bump:

Genital Herpes During Pregnancy

Jennifer L.W. Fink
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Q&A: Can I Breastfeed?

Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC

A Zika Vaccine May Be Months Away

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Associate Editor

Cancer and Getting Pregnant?

Samuel Wood, MD
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Thrombophlebitis During Pregnancy

Deborah Ottenheimer, MD

Allergy Shots and Getting Pregnant?

Jackie Gutmann, MD, reproductive endocrinologist, Reproductive Medicine Associates of Philadelphia
Fertility Specialist

Gestational Trophoblastic Disease

Deborah Ottenheimer, MD

Combating Colds During Pregnancy

Jennifer L.W. Fink
Registered Nurse