What is fifth disease?
Fifth disease is a mild viral infection caused by human parvovirus B19. Fifth disease was so named because it ranked fifth among the various diseases that commonly cause rashes in children before the modern era of vaccines. Four other diseases that are worth mentioning are measles, varicella (chickenpox boba), German measles (3-day measles, rubella) and roseola. You may also hear that the fifth condition is called “slapped cheek disease” or “disease of the face” for the rash that may appear on the face. The medical name for fifth disease is erythema infectiosum.
About half of people with fifth disease sometime during childhood or adolescence. Once a person has had fifth disease, with no risk of having it again.
What are the symptoms of fifth disease?
The most common symptom of fifth disease is a bright red rash that first appears embossed on the face and then (a day later) in the arms, legs and trunk. Children may have mild symptoms like the flu or a cold before the rash begins to surface, such as low fever, sore throat and headache.
Adults who become infected usually do not develop the rash. Instead, they are more likely to experience joint pain or swelling, usually on the hands, wrists, knees and ankles. This may last several months, but usually resolves after 1 or 2 weeks. However, some adults may not experience any symptoms.
Symptoms usually appear about 4 to 14 days after exposure but may not appear rash for a period of up to 3 weeks. About 20% of people with the infection have no symptoms. Others may have symptoms that are inconsistent with the typical symptoms of fifth disease.
The rash of fifth disease usually disappears within 2 weeks. Fades from the center outward, which makes it look stained or has an appearance of “fit”. But you may go for several weeks, triggered by sunlight, heat, exercise, fever or stress.
How is fifth disease treated?
Most cases of fifth disease are mild, so you only need treatment to relieve symptoms.
The symptoms of fever and flu in children can be treated with acetaminophen.
It is possible that adults with joint pain or swelling needed rest and restrict the activities. You may also wish to take medications such as acetaminophen, aspirin or ibuprofen if your doctor recommends them. Avoid giving aspirin to children and adolescents under 18 years, since it can cause serious illness called Reye syndrome.