Fifth Disease: Does Your Child Have It?

Fifth disease is unheard of by many people but the fact is the virus is common in school-age children, particularly during winter and spring. Generally, a child will have symptoms that appear as a cold. Usually a rash appears within 10 days but there is no vaccine to prevent the disease.

Fifth disease, or erythema infectiosum, is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19. It is spread by drinking or eating after an infected person, or even breathing the same air as they. Blood transfusion is another way the virus is spread.

Weeks can pass before a child demonstrates symptoms of the infection. Symptoms usually include body aches, headaches, chills, fever, stuffy or runny nose, diarrhea, sore throat and fatigue. One symptom that stands out is the rash that often appears on cheeks. Cheeks may become extremely crimson and warm.

After the face rash you may notice a rash appearing on your child’s body. The rash generally appears on arms, then chest, back, belly and legs. The rash may be itchy and may worsen after exercise, warm baths or exposure to sun. Even when the fifth disease has gone away the rash may continue to appear for months, off and on.

Joint pain is another prevalent symptom caused by fifth disease. There is no treatment for fifth disease, only to let it go away on its own. Give the child acetaminophen or ibuprofen but never aspirin, not even children’s varieties. Encourage your child to rest as much as possible.

The virus spreads because the child is contagious about a week before the rash appears. Most kids nor parents know the child is sick before the rash. Prevention methods include washing hands frequently and teaching children not to eat or drink after each other. If you know your child is sick do not send him to school or other places where he can infect many other kids.

If a child already suffers from sickle cell anemia he can become extremely sick from fifth disease. Children with cancer or low immunity are also high-risk for danger. Although rarely, fifth disease can cause miscarriage or other problems in unborn babies. Pregnant mothers should avoid any contact with children that have fifth disease. If you’re pregnant and you think you’ve been exposed to fifth disease tell your physician who can give a special blood test to check the unborn baby. Although the rashes from the initial fifth disease infection may reappear from time to time the child cannot get fifth disease more than once.

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