What You Need to Know About Fifth Disease

2-fifths-dieseaseFifth Disease is one of the most common childhood ailments that you’ve never heard of before it happens to your family. The fact of the matter is you may well have been exposed to the disease unknowingly—though about fifty percent of the adult population is immune to Fifth Disease due to previous infection, few adults can recall ever having “slapped cheek syndrome”. It can come on masquerading as a general feeling of malaise, as a generic cold, or as a distinctive rash. Unless you or your child displays the rash it is unlikely that you will ever know you’ve been touched by Fifth Disease. For most people, both child and adult, Fifth Disease is not a serious concern. But as a parent, you should be prepared to recognize and deal with the disease appropriately.

 Signs of Fifth Disease

Fifth Disease, also known colloquially as slapped cheek syndrome, is not typically a dangerous disease. It can infect adults as well as children, but is much more likely to strike those between the ages of five and fifteen. The distinctive rash caused by the disease is characterized by bright red cheeks and a lacy pattern on the rest of the body.  It will tend to concentrate on the arms and legs. The rash is the disease’s most distinctive symptom, but by the time it has appeared, the affected child has already ceased to be contagious.

The infectious stage of the disease occurs earlier and may be accompanied by signs of a cold, malaise, or a low-grade fever. In adults symptoms can also include painful swelling of the joints, similar to arthritis.

Dealing With Fifth Disease

Coping with Fifth Disease is much like coping with any other childhood virus. There is no specific treatment available to cure this illness. All you can do is treat the symptoms and monitor the affected child’s illness and recovery. Important indications include the following:

• Child safe medications like Tylenol may be given to lower the fever and treat pain.
• The rash may be mildly itchy and this can be treated with a soothing oatmeal bath.
• Adults and older children who suffer joint pain and swelling may need to restrict their activities.
• Normal hygiene practices like hand washing should be observed to prevent the spread of disease.
• People who are pregnant, have compromised immune systems, or sickle cell anemia should see a doctor immediately if they develop or are exposed to Fifth Disease.

By the time that the more distinctive signs of Fifth Disease appear, most people have already passed the more contagious stages of the illness. There is little reason at this point to keep an otherwise capable child from public places and activities like school.

Because of this, and because there is no vaccine for this disease, the most effective way to prevent the spread of the disease is to use practical hygiene strategies. Regular hand washing, isolation of children who complain of illness, and other basic practices can help to check an outbreak of the disease.

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