Well, it’s spring time, and along with the flower blossoms, sunshine and coat-less days comes viruses. One virus that is often seen is Fifth Disease. It is also known as slapped cheek syndrome or Parvovirus B19. It is called Fifth Disease because when it was classified many years ago, it was the fifth in a list of childhood illnesses involving rashes.
Even though Fifth Disease is primarily known as a childhood illness, adults can get it, too. Once you are exposed to the virus, it takes 4 – 14 days for symptoms to begin, sometimes longer. Typically, the first symptoms are mistaken for a cold – runny nose, headache, mild fever and/or sore throat and sometimes itching. This is the time when you are contagious. However, at this stage, some people do not have any noticeable symptoms at all. But, then a rash usually appears, typically on the cheeks (hence the name “slapped cheek” disease). It is a lace-like, bright red rash. The rash can appear on other parts of the body, such as the feet, hands, thighs chest and/or back. To see photos of the rash, visit the CDC’s website. The rash may come and go for days and generally fades after one or two weeks. A person is no longer contagious when the rash appears.
Usually most people just experience the above symptoms – they are annoying but not too uncomfortable. But, in other cases, you may experience fever and pain in your joints, as well. This is more common in adults than in children. For example, a friend of mine and I had Fifth Disease at the same time, as adults, and it was not fun. We both experienced pain in our joints. My friend had trouble holding a coffee cup. Ouch! I had swelling and pain in my hands and feet, and pain in my lower spine. This aspect of the disease can last for weeks (and did for us). But, as with most viruses, time, rest and comfort measures for pain (such as acetaminophen) help quite a bit.
Since an infected person spreads the disease before she even knows she has it (from coughing, sneezing, etc.), it can be hard to avoid it. The best way to protect yourself is to wash your hands frequently and try to keep your distance from people with cold and flu-like symptoms.
If you have a fragile immune system or if you are pregnant, you should seek medical attention if you think you have been exposed to Fifth Disease.
The good news about Fifth Disease is that once you get it, you should not get it again. And, as far as diseases go, this one is on the mild side of the spectrum. You can read more about it in another NMN post.