fifth disease

Fifth disease, or erythema infectiosum, is a reasonably harmless red rash of childhood - the fifth rash on the old list of common red rashes. Hence the name, which is certainly easier to say than "erythema infectiosum." It is caused by human parvovirus B19 (no relation to dog parvovirus... parvo just means "small"). It is also known as "slapped cheek disease," because for the first day or two of the illness the cheeks become bright red as if slapped. Then a characteristic lacy rash appears on the extensor surfaces (those opposite the elbow and knee creases) of the arms and legs as well as the trunk. Heat - such as a warm bath - will make the rash appear worse and may cause mild itching.

It occurs often in epidemics; stopping them is made more difficult by the fact that the disease is not transmitted once the rash appears. So your child can go to school with this rash. It chiefly affects kids ages 5 through 15; older patients with the disease may (as often the case with childhood infections) have more symptoms, especially joint aches. Most teachers test immune to the virus by the time they have been teaching a few years.

There may be some low grade prodromal symptoms of headache, low grade fever, or body aches - just like a zillion other viruses. Often the child has no complaints whatever until the rash suddenly appears.

There can be complications for the infection in patients with hemolytic anemias, in pregnant women, or immunosuppressed patients. However, by and large it is a trivial event.

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