Our experience with Fifth Disease and Key Things to Know About this Childhood Rash
Fifth Disease, also commonly referred to as “Slapped Cheek” or Parovirus b19 is one of the less common viruses. As a parent of young children, most of you are well aware of the more common rashes that affect children like Hand Foot and Mouth and Roseola. Because people don’t talk much about Fifth Disease I was very concerned when my 5-year old suddenly came down with this mysterious disease several weeks ago.
Here’s how it went down: Grandma dropped her off and her cheek’s looked flushed. I asked her if she was feeling OK and she said she was fine. The next morning, she woke up with flushed cheeks again but along with that came a red rash all over her upper arms.
She has a few food allergies, so initially, I was concerned that she was maybe having a reaction to something she ate. We gave her some Benadryl which did nothing for the rash at all! Since she wasn’t complaining of any symptoms, we decided to wait it out.
I started doing some research on viral rashes and found a lot of information pointing to Fifth Disease. According to the CDC, “Fifth Disease is mild rash illness caused by parvovirus B19. It is more common in children than adults. This disease, also called erythema infectiosum, got its name because it was fifth in a list of historical classifications of common skin rash illnesses in children.”
Sure enough about a week later, my 2-year old woke up with the same rosy, rashy cheeks. I looked at her arms and she had the rash (more severe than my 5-year old) all over her arms and legs, but no other symptoms! We decided to let the rash take its course since both of my kids had zero other symptoms!
Fifth disease has some very specific characteristics that set it apart from other common childhood rashes like Hand Foot and Mouth.
Six Things to Know About Fifth Disease
It May Not Cause Any Symptoms
According to the Mayo Clinic’s website, kids can experience cold-like symptoms like a runny nose, headache or low-grade fever during the onset of the rash, but this was not the case with either of my kids. They never complained of any symptoms and felt amazingly well the entire time they had the virus despite looking a bit scary.
The Rash Hangs Around (And Around and Around)
Unlike other rashes like Roseola, this rash hangs around for a LONG time. Our pediatrician let us know that the rash could come and go for up to three weeks. Our 5-year old would wake up with no rash and be covered in the rash again by noon. According to medical professionals, this is not cause for concern. It’s just the progression of the virus and the rash running its course. The “slapped cheeks” tend to last less than a week, but the body rash may hang around for longer.
The Rash Is Not Itchy
While the rash looks pretty gnarly, it doesn’t seem to actually cause kids any discomfort. My 2-year old isn’t a great communicator, but it didn’t seem to bother her at all. My 5-year old told me that she had no pain or itchiness associated with the rash (and trust me, she would be the first to tell me!) Because it’s not itchy, there is really nothing to be done to treat the rash. Our pediatrician said we could use our usual go-to unscented moisturizer, Aveeno, but the rash wouldn’t require calamine lotion or any other specific treatment.
Fifth Disease is Contagious, but Probably Not Once the Rash Appears
According to multiple medical sources, “Fifth disease is spread by respiratory secretions from an infected person. By the time the rash appears, children are no longer contagious and may attend school or daycare. The incubation period (the period between infection and signs or symptoms of illness) is usually four to 14 days, but can be as long as 21 days.”
I’m not going to lie, I definitely thought twice before taking my red and blotchy two-year-old anywhere in public for the first week of her severe breakout, but most medical literature agrees that once the rash appears, children are no longer contagious. It might still be worth laying low for a few days until you are able to confirm the diagnosis.
Fifth Disease can be VERY Dangerous for Pregnant Women
If a pregnant woman contracts Fifth Disease there is a 33% chance she will pass the virus to her fetus and about a 3% chance that she will experience complications including fetal anemia or hydrops fetalis. (SOURCE). According to one study, around 65% of women in North American already have immunity to Fifth Disease., but if you are pregnant and your children come down with this virus, extra monitoring is critical. If your kids have the virus and you know anyone who is pregnant, it’s best to try to keep yourself and your kids clear of that person for a few weeks.
You Only Get It Once in a Lifetime
Like many viruses that cause childhood rashes, most people will only have to deal with Fifth Disease once in their lifetime. According to the CDC, “Once you recover from fifth disease, you develop immunity that generally protects you from parvovirus B19 infection in the future.” Both of our kids had Fifth Disease within a few weeks of each other and my husband and I were completely in the clear, most likely because we had it as kids.
Overall, this rash was really NO big deal on the scale of childhood illnesses we have experienced. It looks much worse than it is, but it doesn’t require any treatment and it’s really not bothersome to kids for the most part. The best thing to do is just let the virus ride its course and enjoy one of the rare illnesses that does not come with any unpleasant side effects!