Slapped cheek syndrome (also known as “fifth disease”) is a type of viral infection that is most common in children, although it can affect anyone of any age.
Slapped cheek syndrome usually affects children between the ages of 3 and 15. Most cases develop during the late winter months or early spring.
The most common symptom of slapped cheek syndrome is the appearance of a distinctive bright red rash on the cheeks. This is how the condition got its name.
You can read more about what the symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome are.
What treatment will my child need?
Most children will not need treatment as slapped cheek syndrome is usually a very mild condition that passes in a few days. Occasionally it can last up to four or five weeks.
Symptoms such as headaches, high temperature or itchy skin can usually be treated with over-the-counter medications such as paracetamol and antihistamines.
Adults who develop joint pain can use non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as ibuprofen, as painkillers.
You will probably only need to contact your GP if one or both of the following occurs:
- Your (or your child’s) temperature rises to 39C or above.
- Your (or your child’s) symptoms suddenly worsen.
Read more about treating slapped cheek syndrome.
What are the causes of slapped cheek syndrome?
Slapped cheek syndrome is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19. Parvovirus B19 is an airborne virus that is spread in much the same way as the cold or flu viruses. It can be spread through coughs and sneezes that release tiny droplets of contaminated saliva which are then breathed in by another person.
It's very difficult to prevent the spread of the virus as people are most contagious before their symptoms begin, so they are unaware that they are infected.
Once you've been infected you should develop a lifelong immunity and not experience any further symptoms.
Read more about the causes of slapped cheek syndrome.
There are three high-risk groups in which the parvovirus B19 can cause a much more serious infection and trigger a range of complications. These are listed below.
- People with certain blood disorders, such as sickle cell anaemia. This is where the blood doesn't contain enough healthy red blood cells (anaemia) and infection can lead to a further and more severe loss of red blood cells.
- Pregnant women without immunity. Parvovirus B19 infection can increase the risk of a miscarriage because the virus can cause severe anaemia in the unborn child.
- People with a weakened immune system (immunocompromised), either due to a side effect of treatment, such as chemotherapy, or from a condition such as HIV. These groups can experience prolonged, and sometime severe, symptoms of infection.
If you're in one of these high-risk groups and you have been in close contact with someone who goes on to develop slapped cheek syndrome, contact your GP for advice.
People in these groups may need to be admitted to hospital. In some cases, they may need a blood transfusion.
You can read more about the complications of slapped cheek syndrome.