What is Slapped Cheek Disease?

Slapped Cheek disease, also known as Fifth disease, is a common childhood viral infection caused by human parvovirus B19. It is usually a mild illness but can be more severe for some people, such as those with blood disorders or weakened immune systems.

It can spread rapidly through childcare centres and schools and typically occurs in the winter and spring.  Epidemics occur every three to seven years.

What are the symptoms?

The early symptoms can include headache, body aches, sore throat, mild fever and chills.  

Children then develop a bright red rash on their cheeks that looks almost like slap marks.   This characteristic rash is sometimes followed by a lace-like rash on their arms and legs.  Symptoms appear up to 20 days after becoming infected (usually 1 – 3 days) and last for 7-10 days.

Adults are less likely to have the rashes but sometimes get swollen and painful joints, especially in the hands and feet. If this occurs, joint pain and swelling usually last for one to two weeks, but may last for several months.

How is it spread?

The virus is present in the nose and throat of an infected person and is spread by droplets when an infected person sneezes or coughs. 

Cases are usually infectious 5-10 days after exposure to the virus and before the onset of the rash. They are probably not infectious after the rash appears.  People with impaired immunity may be infectious for months.

How is it treated?

There is no specific treatment for this disease however treatment of symptoms such as fever, pain and itching may be needed.

People with immune and blood disorders may need special medical care, including treatment with immunoglobulin (antibodies) to help their bodies get rid of the infection.

How is spread prevented?

Frequent and thorough hand washing is the most effective way of avoiding infection, especially after coughing and sneezing.

Who is at risk?

The infection is usually mild, and both children and adults get better without any problems. People who have had Slapped Cheek disease develop a lasting immunity that protects against future infection.

Those likely to develop problems are people with blood disorders or weakened immune systems and if they become infected with the virus, they should see a doctor for advice.

There is also a risk for pregnant women. Infection during pregnancy, especially during the first half, can occasionally cause serious illness in the unborn child. Pregnant women who may have been in contact with a case of Slapped Cheek disease should consult their family doctor for advice.

Pregnant women with sick children at home are advised to wash hands frequently and avoid sharing eating utensils.

What about staying away from work, school or preschool?

Most children are no longer contagious by the time they are diagnosed, so they can attend preschool or school if they are feeling well.

Talk to your family doctor for more information about Slapped Cheek disease.