Fifth Disease in Children

February 27, 2023
Janelle Thomas MSN, RN
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Fifth Disease is a relatively mild viral illness, but the signs and symptoms of this condition can often be alarming to parents. Although it is perfectly normal to worry about your child’s health and wellness, fifth disease usually requires little-to-no treatment and clears up in a short period of time.

We’re sharing this overview to help caregivers better understand this condition, including the causes, symptoms to watch for, treatments, and prevention steps.

What Is Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease, or Erythema Infectiosum, is an illness caused by the human parvovirus B19. This condition gets its name from a classification system of common skin rashes in children, where it was fifth on the list. Fifth disease is more widespread in children, and typically causes infections in children between the ages of five and 15.

The disease is most commonly associated with a bright red rash on the face that spreads to other parts of the body. Fifth disease usually clears up within a period of one to three weeks.

Causes of Fifth Disease

Parvovirus B19 spreads through droplets resulting from sneezing, coughing, or touching surfaces. The parvovirus also causes severe illness in canines, but the virus that causes fifth disease is unique to humans and cannot be caused by or transmitted to other animals.

People with this virus are most contagious when first infected and before symptoms appear. By the time the rash appears, children are usually no longer contagious.

Can Fifth Disease Be Prevented?

There is currently no cure or vaccine that can fully prevent the spread of Parvovirus B19 and fifth disease. Once children have had it though, they will usually not contract it again.

Like other viruses, the best ways to prevent transmission include regularly washing hands, avoiding touching your face and eyes, and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces.

Fifth Disease Symptoms

The most common symptoms of fifth disease are:

  • A mild fever
  • Headache
  • A runny or congested nose
  • A bright red rash that appears a few days later on the cheeks, often called a “slapped cheek” rash
  • The rash can then spread down the body to the chest, arms, and legs over the next few days
  • Itchiness
  • Sore and swollen joints and muscle aches

The rash is more likely to occur in younger children, while older children and adults with this illness may be more likely to experience joint problems.

Fifth Disease Complications

Fifth disease may increase the risk of certain complications for patients with weakened immune systems and blood disorders such as sickle cell disease. Because it reduces the body’s ability to create red blood cells, which deliver oxygen to cells, fifth disease can cause severe anemia in these patients. Children who are pale, dizzy, or excessively drowsy should receive immediate medical attention.

Diagnosing Fifth Disease

Doctors and medical providers can very often diagnose fifth disease on site based on the presence of the rash combined with other symptoms. If necessary, a blood test may be needed to identify the presence of parvovirus B19 if visible symptoms are less noticeable or not present.

Fifth Disease Treatments

In a large number of cases, fifth disease clears up on its own without the need for medication or treatment. The best thing children with this diagnosis can do is get plenty of rest and stay hydrated.

Doctors may recommend treatments to manage symptoms, including acetaminophen to help with fever and topical creams to help ease any itchiness from the rashes. If symptoms last longer than a few weeks, or begin to worsen, consult with a doctor or health care provider as soon as possible.

Caring for a Child with Fifth Disease

Fifth disease should have minimal care needs beyond ensuring your child gets enough rest and helping manage symptoms. For the busiest families, it can sometimes be difficult providing the level of care children need for an optimal recovery. This is especially true for children dealing with a chronic condition like anemia or sickle cell disease in combination with a fifth disease infection.

For nearly any situation, pediatric home care can help. Home health services provide a specially trained and compassionate professional to meet any family’s needs. Whether it’s basic care needs or more extensive services, home health can support your care journey.

Contact Care Options for Kids For Pediatric Home Health Care

It can be hard to balance your time between work, home, and caring for a child. That’s why our team of skilled professionals at Care Options for Kids is here to help.

Our home health care services offer support in the comfort of your home. We refer loving and competent nurses to provide customized care for families — from a few hours a day to around-the-clock supervision. Contact us directly to speak with a home health care professional or request a free in-home assessment. Together we can determine the best plan of action to keep your loved ones happy and healthy.

If you are considering pediatric home health care services, contact the caring staff at Care Options for Kids. Call today at (888) 592-5855.