You’ve heard about chickenpox, rubella and measles but how about fifth disease?
Your child’s teacher calls you up and informs you that he’s not feeling too well. You rush to school and you find he has a fever. It seems like he might have caught the flu but a few days later, his cheeks are looking really red. Soon, his body looks red too. If this is the case, it may not be the common flu but a viral infection called fifth disease.
Fifth disease is caused by parvovirus B19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this infection is also called erythema infectiosum (EI). Fifth disease is highly contagious and commonly affects children between the ages of five and 15 although adults can get infected too. Symptoms of the disease will usually start appearing from four to 14 days after the child is infected with parvovirus B19.
Bright red rash
The first symptoms to appear are usually a fever, a runny nose and headaches. This is normally followed by rash on the face and body. Typically, the rash will be bright red in colour. It will begin on the face and give the appearance of slapped cheeks. The rash may then spread to other parts of the body such as the torso, arms and legs. Painful and swollen joints are other possible symptoms of fifth disease. However, these tend to be more prevalent among adults compared to children.
The symptoms for fifth disease are similar to that of the common flu. They are generally mild in healthy children and can be treated at home. At times, children who have been infected by parvovirus B19 may not experience any symptoms at all. If you suspect that your child has contracted fifth disease, speak to your child’s paediatrician for a diagnosis and recommended treatment methods to relieve symptoms. Some of the common treatment methods to relieve the symptoms of fifth disease include drinking lots of fluids and taking acetaminophen to relieve the fever and joint pains.
For children who are anemic, a parvovirus infection can cause possible complications such as a block on the production of red blood cells. Be sure to seek immediate medical attention if your child is anemic and has been infected. The virus can also create complications when a child has had an organ transplant or has other conditions such as cancer or HIV.
Stop the transmission
If your child has fifth disease, it is important to remember that it is contagious and can be easily transmitted via respiratory secretions such as saliva, nasal mucous and sputum. This is why it is best for your child to stay home from school if he has been diagnosed with this disease.
If you have other children at home, make sure you practice good hygiene habits. This includes frequently washing your hands with soap and properly disposing tissues used by the infected child by flushing them down the toilet. You should also discourage your child from touching or rubbing his mouth, nose and eyes. If he does, be sure that he washes his hands with soap right after doing so.
Your child should be able to return to school after the bright red rash appears on his cheeks. This is because, the most contagious period of fifth disease is before the rash and/or painful and swollen joints occur, not after. If you’re uncertain, seek advice from your child’s paediatrician before allowing him to return to school.
Good hygiene is key
Here are some steps you can take to prevent and protect your children from contracting fifth disease.
- Always have hand sanitisers and wet wipes handy, when you’re out with the kids. This way, you can clean and wipe their hands when needed.
- Avoid close contact with people who appear to be sick or seem to have the flu. Some people may have fifth disease but do not know it
- Encourage your children to wash their hands often, using soap and water
- Do not allow your children to share food and drinks with others
Currently, there are no vaccines for parvovirus B19. However, once you’ve been infected by this virus, your body will naturally develop a lifelong immunity against it. Unfortunately, just like many other viral infections, it is hard to predict the onset of the disease or when it will move on to its different stages. The best step you can take to prevent fifth disease from infecting your child is to educate him on good personal hygiene habits.
Did you know?
The canine and feline parvovirus is different from the human parvovirus. If a human is infected by the parvovirus, it cannot be passed on to an animal and vice versa.
This condition was named ‘fifth disease’ because it was fifth on the list of classifications for common rash illnesses among children. Other childhood rashes on this list include scarlet fever, rubella, measles and chicken pox.
Are you pregnant?
If you are pregnant and have been infected with parvovirus B19, you can pass the virus to your baby. Parvovirus B19 can affect the red blood cells in the foetus and in some cases, this can lead to a miscarriage or a stillbirth.