KidsMD Health Topics

Fifth Disease

  • Overview text

    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

      fax: 617-730-0505

  • 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.
  • Tests

    How is fifth disease diagnosed?

    Fifth disease is usually diagnosed based on a medical history and physical examination of your child. The rash and progression of fifth disease is unique, and suggests the correct diagnosis. In addition, your child's physician may order blood tests to aid in the diagnosis.

  • Since fifth disease is a viral infection, there is no cure but mother nature. The goal of treatment is to help decrease the severity of the symptoms and limit exposure to others. Treatment may include:

    • increased fluid intake
    • acetaminophen for fever (DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN)

    Aspirin and the risk of Reye Syndrome in children

    Do not give aspirin to a child without first contacting the child's physician. Aspirin, when given as treatment for children, has been associated with Reye syndrome, a potentially serious or deadly disorder in children. Therefore, pediatricians and other healthcare providers recommend that aspirin (or any medication that contains aspirin) not be used to treat any viral illnesses in children.

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