Conditions + Treatments

Fifth Disease in Children

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What is fifth disease?

Fifth disease is a viral illness that causes cold-like symptoms and a skin rash. It is spread by sneezing and coughing. Children with the condition are most contagious before the rash occurs, often before they know they have the disease. Although fifth disease can occur in adults, it is more common in children.

What are the symptoms of fifth disease?

It may take 4 to 14 days for a child to develop symptoms of fifth disease after being exposed to the virus.

Symptoms can vary, but usually begin with:

  • fever
  • headache
  • red eyes
  • runny nose

After a few days, children develop a rash that starts on the cheeks and is bright red. It can look like slapped cheeks. The rash may spread to the trunk, arms and legs, and may be itchy. It can last for up to 10 days.

Some children with fifth disease may also develop swollen or painful joints, but this symptom is more common in adults.

For most children, the symptoms of fifth disease are generally mild. Those with weakened immune systems may develop more serious complications, such as chronic anemia.

About 20 percent of people with the virus do not have symptoms but can still spread the disease.

What causes fifth disease?

Fifth disease is caused by the human parvovirus. It is most common in winter and spring and is most common in children ages 5 to 14.

How is fifth disease diagnosed?

Fifth disease is usually diagnosed based on a medical history and physical examination of your child. The rash of fifth disease is unique, which aids in diagnosis.

What are the treatment options for fifth disease?

Fifth disease is a viral infection, so there is no medication will cure it. The goal of treatment is to help lessen the severity of symptoms and limit exposure to others. Your child’s doctor may suggest your child drink more fluids or take over-the-counter medication to reduce fever.

How we care for fifth disease

The pediatric specialists at the Boston Children's Hospital Primary Care at Longwood provide comprehensive primary care to patients. We have vast experience diagnosing and caring for common illnesses like fifth disease.

Boston Children’s is so much more than a hospital—it’s a community of researchers, clinicians, administrators, support staff, innovators, teachers, patients and families, all working together to make the impossible possible. ”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

Boston Children's Hospital
300 Longwood Avenue, Boston, MA 02115
For Patients: 617-355-6000
For Referring Providers: 844-BCH-PEDS | 844-224-7337

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