Fifth disease is a very common childhood disease. It is caused by a viral attack that leads to a rash on the cheeks, arms and legs. Fifth disease is also called “slapped cheek” disease because the rash on the cheeks looks like the result of a slap. The name “fifth disease” is a holdover from old French medical terminology. Fifth disease is caused by the virus called human parvovirus B19. Twenty percent of children contract the disease by age five and that number jumps to sixty percent by age nineteen. The infection is not serious and goes away about a week after symptoms first appear.
Symptoms of Fifth Disease
Early symptoms of fifth disease mimic those of the flu. They include a runny nose, sore throat, headache, belly pain, mild fever (around 100 degrees Farenhite), body weakness and joint pain. Those symptoms are followed by a distinctive rash several days later. The rash follows a predictable patters, usually in three stages. During the first stage, a bright red rash occurs in the sides of the face and sometimes the forehead and chin. This rash fades within two to five days. The second stage of the rash appears on the neck, trunk, forearms, upper legs and buttocks. This second stage lasts less then a week. The third stage of the rash only appears if the person is out in the sun or becomes stressed. This third stage lasts about one to three weeks. The symptoms of fifth disease generally arise two to three weeks after exposure to the virus. When adults contract the disease they commonly experience joint pain in their hands, wrists, ankles and feet.
Treatment of Fifth Disease
For normal, healthy, people home treatment is all that is needed to treat fifth disease. This includes rest, drinking a lot of fluids and taking over the counter fever and pain relievers like Tylenol or Motrin. Many people mistakenly believe that the reappearance of the rash is an indication that the disease is more serious and needs further treatment. This is not true. The rash often goes away and then reappears, often caused by exposure to the sun or stress. People who are at risk or have compromised immune symptoms require slightly more attention and care. They need close monitoring by a doctor after exposure to to the disease or when they begin showing symptoms. If the disease is serious they may need to spend several nights in a hospital as a precaution. Pregnant women exposed to the disease may require blood test to see if they have contracted the disease. If they have, their doctors may want to order fetal ultrasounds to monitor the health of the fetus.
Control the Spread of Fifth Disease
By the time the rash appears, you can no longer spread the disease to anyone else. After a child gets a rash, he or she may return to school or day care. People known to have fifth disease, including those who have complications, should take measures to prevent spreading the virus. The best preventative measure is to wash your hands. Patients hospitalized for fifth disease may be isolated from other patients so they do not spread the disease.
Despite its foreboding and intimidating name, fifth disease is a common illness, which afflicts the majority of young people by the time they reach adulthood. The disease is not serious and only causes some mild flu like symptoms and a rash. I personally have never experienced fifth disease. I am sure I had it as a child but was too young or the disease was too insignificant for me to remember it now. If your child contracts fifth disease do not worry. It is a mild disease that will likely go away within a week. You should try to halt the spread pf the disease by keeping your child out of social situations. Don’t send your child to school or daycare until the rash has appeared and the disease is no longer communicable. Be sure to wash your hands and your children’s hands. Make your sick child rest and he or she will be back on her feet and healthy again in no time.
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