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Parvovirus/ Erythema Infectiosum/ “Fifth Disease”

Erythema infectiosum is an infection that causes a rash, fever, and other symptoms. It is caused by a virus called “human parvovirus.” Another name for erythema infectiosum is “fifth disease.”

Fifth disease is common in children. Adults can also get it. If a pregnant woman gets fifth disease, it can be dangerous for her unborn baby.

Most people come in contact with Parvovirus at some point in their life, especially if they work with children. Almost half of pregnant women have been exposed and are immune, meaning they are unlikely to get sick with it again (and therefore if pregnant, the baby is not at risk).

Many people with fifth disease have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. Most people feel better in a few weeks.

When symptoms do occur, they can include: Fever, headache, sore throat, itching, cough, upset stomach with diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting, sneezing, conjunctivitis (also called “pinkeye”), muscle aches or joint aches.

The first symptoms last 2-5 days. After that, symptoms can include:

  • Rash on the face – Often called a “slapped cheek” rash, this rash makes a child’s cheek looks bright red, as if someone just slapped it.
  • Rash on the chest, back, arms, and legs – This usually shows up after the face rash. The rash makes a pattern that looks like lace.
  • Joint pain – Usually in hands, wrists, knees, and feet.

Children often feel better by the time they get a rash. Sometimes, the rash comes back after it goes away. Sunlight, temperature changes, exercise, or stress can make it come back.

If you are pregnant, your doctor can order a blood test to see if you have the infection and/or if you’ve had it in the past.

Most people with fifth disease get better without treatment. Tylenol can help with the symptoms.

So far, doctors do not have a good medicine to treat the virus that causes fifth disease. Antibiotics DO NOT WORK on fifth disease.

You can lower your chances of getting fifth disease by:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, or using an alcohol hand rub. Teach your children to do the same.
  • Not sharing food and drinks with other people.

If you are pregnant and were around someone with the virus that causes fifth disease, ask your doctor about your risk of infection. Most likely, you will be tested for immunity or active infection. If you test positive, there is a small risk of anemia for your baby. The baby may need more monitoring by ultrasound throughout your pregnancy (in the last trimester). There is no increased risk of developmental delay or birth defects associated with parvovirus. Rarely, infection with parvovirus B19 during pregnancy can lead to fetal loss. The overall incidence of these complications is low and concentrated among infections that occur during the first half of pregnancy.

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