Fifth Disease in Children: What You Should Know

Fifth disease is a very common and contagious disease in children. Here's everything you need to know about it.
Fifth Disease in Children: What You Should Know

Last update: 25 April, 2021

Erythema infectiosum is a particularly frequent disease among children between 5 to 15 years of age. It’s caused by a virus and is also known as “the fifth disease.” In this article, we’ll tell you everything you should know about this condition.

What’s fifth disease?

Fifth disease is an illness caused by parvovirus B-19. To clarify, we must emphasize that this type of parvovirus is exclusively human, so it’s not the same parvovirus that some domestic animals, such as dogs, can get.

This disease mainly affects children between 5 and 15 years of age. It’s highly contagious, and outbreaks usually occur in late winter or early spring, even if cases can also present themselves at any time of the year.

 You may also read: What’s the influenza virus?

What are the symptoms of fifth disease?

The infection begins with a low fever, malaise, headache, runny nose and signs of a mild common cold. These signs usually don’t last more than 3-4 days, after which the illness seems to subside.

This virus causes a very typical symptom, which is the “slapped cheek.” It bears this name because children develop a red rash starting on the cheeks, as if they’d been slapped. The slapped cheek symptom appears a few days after the cold symptoms have disappeared.

Fifth Disease in Children: What You Should Know

As mentioned above, these red spots start on the face. After this, they spread downwards over the rest of the body. The spots become lighter in the center, and end up looking like a net. The rash may take 1 to 3 weeks to disappear.

Sometimes, stimuli such as the sun, stress or heat can reactivate spots that are fading, until they disappear completely. It’s more common for the rash to appear in children under the age of 10. In other age groups, the infection usually presents only the other symptoms mentioned above.

In addition, it’s common for children to complain of joint pain and swelling for some time after the rash disappears.

How does it spread?

The virus is easily spread from person to person. It spreads through fluids from an infected person, such as saliva or mucus, or by sharing objects such as eating utensils.

The disease is most contagious during the incubation period or during catarrhal symptoms. Once the rash has appeared, it’s a sign that the immune system has been properly activated and is taking care of eliminating the virus, so the virus becomes less contagious.

There’s no vaccine to prevent the infection of this virus. The best way to prevent infection is, as always, to follow good hygiene habits, especially proper hand washing.

Treating the fifth disease

Most of the time, fifth disease passes as a very mild disease that doesn’t require treatment. In case the symptoms become very uncomfortable or if there’s a high fever, the children should receive an antipyretic, such as paracetamol, in the appropriate dose according to their age.

We must bear in mind that, as it’s a virus causing this illness, antibiotics don’t work, as they’re only effective against some bacteria. In addition, we should never treat our child without the supervision and approval of a pediatrician.

Fifth Disease in Children: What You Should Know

Possible complications

As we’ve already said, even if it usually passes without major repercussions, there are cases in which we should be extremely cautious. This is because the virus can slow down or temporarily stop the formation of red blood cells, which are responsible for transporting hemoglobin and oxygen through the bloodstream.

For children in good health there will be no major problem. So, after the infection is over, the normal production of these cells will start again. However, we should be careful with children with a depressed immune system or who were previously anemic. In these special cases, it’ll be the pediatrician who’ll decide what steps are most appropriate in their treatment.


It’s a very contagious disease, but it’s usually not very serious. As there’s no vaccine to protect us from this virus, the most important thing is compliance with basic hygiene measures. Of course, in case of any concerning sign or symptom, we must go to the specialist, as they’ll know what’s the best course of action in each case.


All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Manual de Diagnóstico Y Terapéutica en Pediatría – Google Libros [Internet]. [cited 2020 Apr 9]. Available from: infeccioso&f=false
  • Angulo Barreras MP, Fernández López A, Pérez De M, Taramona S, Etxeberria ML, Pocheville Guruzeta I, et al. (1997). El parvovirus B19 como agente infeccioso en el lactante. Vol. 47.
  • Reyes-Gómez U, Ramíirez Ponce B. (2010). Eritema infeccioso o quinta enfermedad.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.