Child Health Services


Fifth Disease

Fifth disease is a viral illness that results in a viral exanthem. Exanthem is another name for a rash or skin eruption. It is spread from one child to another through direct contact with discharge from the nose and throat. It can also be spread through contact with infected blood. It is moderately contagious and usually does not include a high fever, as seen with some other viral skin conditions.

What causes fifth disease?

Fifth disease is caused by the human parvovirus. It is most prevalent in the winter and spring and is usually seen in school age children. Outbreaks of the disease frequently occur in school settings.

What are the symptoms of fifth disease?

It may take between four to 14 days for the child to develop symptoms of fifth disease after being exposed to the disease. Children are most contagious before the rash occurs. Therefore, children may be contagious before they even know they have the disease. Also, about 20 percent of people with the virus do not have symptoms but can still spread the disease. The following are the most common symptoms of fifth disease. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • There may be an early phase with the following symptoms, although this is not very common. If present, symptoms may include the following:
    • fever
    • headache
    • red eyes
    • sore throat
  • The rash is usually the primary symptom of fifth disease. The rash:
    • starts on the cheeks and is bright red. The rash makes the child look as though he/she has been"slapped" on the cheeks.
    • then spreads to the trunk, arms, and legs, and lasts two to four days.
    • may then continue to reappear if the child is exposed to sunlight, very hot or cold temperature, or trauma to the skin. This may continue for several days.

The most serious complication of the disease affects pregnant women. The virus that causes fifth disease can cause fetal death. The symptoms of fifth disease may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is fifth disease diagnosed?

Fifth disease is usually diagnosed based on a complete medical history and physical examination of your child. The rash of fifth disease is unique, and usually allows for a diagnosis simply on physical examination. In addition, your child's physician may order blood tests to aid in the diagnosis.

Treatment for fifth disease:

Specific treatment for fifth disease will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

The goal of treatment for fifth disease is to help decrease the severity of the symptoms. Since it is a viral infection, there is no cure for fifth disease. Treatment may include:

  • increased fluid intake
  • acetaminophen for fever (DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN)