WellSpan Home

Health Library

Fifth Disease

What is fifth disease?

Fifth disease is a viral illness that causes a condition called an exanthem. An exanthem is another name for a rash or skin eruption. Fifth disease is also known as erythema infectiosum and as "slapped cheek" disease because the rash can cause a child's cheeks to become quite red. Fifth disease is spread from one child to another through direct contact with fluid from the nose and throat. It can also be spread through contact with infected blood. It is moderately contagious.

What causes fifth disease?

Fifth disease is caused by the human parvovirus B19. It happens most often in the winter and spring. It is most common in school age children. Children often get it at school or other places where children gather. Adults can get fifth disease too, but most infections are in children. 

What are the symptoms of fifth disease?

Symptoms usually show up 4 to 14 days after being exposed to the disease. About 80 percent of children have very mild symptoms for about a week before getting the rash. About 20 percent will have no symptoms at all before the rash appears. Children are most contagious before the rash occurs. Therefore, children are contagious before they even know they have the disease. The following are the most common symptoms of fifth disease. However, symptoms can be different for each child.

  • Early symptoms are sometimes very mild and nearly unnoticed. These symptoms may include:

    • Low grade fever

    • Headache

    • Runny nose

    • Sore throat

    • Itching

    • Nausea or vomiting

    • Diarrhea

  • A rash is usually the primary symptom of fifth disease. The rash:

    • Starts on the cheeks and is bright red. It often looks like "slapped" cheeks.

    • Spreads to the trunk, arms, and legs, and lasts two to four days. It often has a "lacey" appearance. 

    • May come back when the child is exposed to sunlight, very hot or cold temperature, or trauma to the skin. This may continue for several days.

Fifth disease is usually a mild illness. However, parvovirus B19 infection may cause an acute severe anemia in persons with sickle-cell disease or immune deficiencies. There is a small risk of fetal death if fifth disease is acquired during pregnancy.

The symptoms of fifth disease are similar to other conditions or medical problems. Always see your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is fifth disease diagnosed?

Your child’s health care provider will do a complete medical history and physical examination of your child. This may be enough to diagnose fifth disease as the rash and progression of fifth disease are unique. Your child's provider may also order blood tests.

Treatment for fifth disease

The goal of treatment is to help reduce symptoms. Since it is a viral infection, there is no cure for fifth disease. Treatment may include:

  • Drinking more fluids

  • Taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever (DO NOT GIVE ASPIRIN to children. Aspirin can cause a serious health condition called Reye syndrome.)

  • Using an antihistamine for itching 

The best ways to keep fifth disease and other illnesses from spreading include hand-washing with soapy water, and covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.  

Fifth Disease - WellSpan Health

Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Last Review Date: 2014-06-27T00:00:00
Last Modified Date: 2014-08-01T00:00:00
Posting Date: 2008-06-30T00:00:00
Published Date: 2014-08-01T00:00:00
Last Review Date: 2007-03-30T00:00:00
© 2016 WellSpan Health. All Rights Reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.

Are you sure you would like to cancel?

All information will be lost.

Yes No ×

About the provider search

This search will provide you with WellSpan Medical Group and Northern Lancaster County (Ephrata) Medical Group primary care physicians and specialists. If we don’t have a WellSpan Medical Group physician to meet your criteria, the search will expand to include community physicians who partner with WellSpan Medical Group physicians through the WellSpan Provider Network or provide care to patients on the Medical Staffs of WellSpan’s Hospitals.


Schedule Your Next Appointment Online with MyWellSpan

Use your MyWellSpan patient portal any time to view available appointments, and pick the date and time that best suits your schedule.

Go to MyWellSpan

New to this practice?

If you don't have a WellSpan primary care provider and would like to schedule a new patient appointment with a provider who is accepting patients, just log into your MyWellSpan account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to see the offices that are accepting new patients in relation to your zip code. If you are not enrolled in MyWellSpan, go to https://my.wellspan.org, call 1-866-638-1842 or speak with a member of the staff at a participating facility to sign up. New patient scheduling not available at all practices/programs.

Already a patient at this practice?

If you already have a relationship with a WellSpan practice, simply log into your account, and go to the Appointment Center section. As you progress through the scheduling process, you will be able to schedule an appointment with any provider or practice that already counts you as a patient. Online scheduling varies by practice/program.