Fifth Disease Symptoms & Causes

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In-Depth

What is fifth disease?

Fifth disease is a viral illness that is associated with an exanthema, which is another name for a rash or skin eruption. It spreads from one child to another through direct contact with discharge from the nose and throat. It can also spread through contact with infected blood. Fifth disease is moderately contagious and usually does not include a high fever, as seen with some other viral skin conditions.

What causes fifth disease?

Fifth disease is caused by the human parvovirus. It is most prevalent in the winter and spring and is usually seen in children 5 to 14 years old. Outbreaks of the disease frequently occur in school settings.

What are the symptoms of fifth disease?

It may take between four to 14 days for a child to develop symptoms of fifth disease after being exposed to it. Because children are most contagious before the rash occurs, some may be contagious before they even know they have the disease.

About 20 percent of people with the virus do not have symptoms but can still spread the disease. Each child may experience symptoms differently, but the most common symptoms include:

The rash:

  • starts on the cheeks and is bright red, resembling slapped cheeks
  • spreads to the trunk, arms and legs, and lasts two to four days
  • may continue to reappear for several days if the child is exposed to sunlight, very hot or cold temperatures, or trauma to the skin.
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