Tash Hughes of
Infectiosum is a common, mild viral disease caused by
Parvovirus B19. It is most commonly called “slap cheek”
in Australia and “Fifth Disease” in the USA.
The disease is
most common in 5 to 14 year olds, but all age groups are
susceptible to the virus. About half the adult
population has had slap cheek, but not all are aware of
it because it is not always diagnosed and 20% of
infected people are symptom free anyway.
is it like?
symptom of the disease is the development of a red rash
on the cheeks, which looks as if the patient has been
slapped. It can resemble scarlet fever, rubella and
4 – 14 days
after exposure to the virus, some non-specific symptoms
usually arise; symptoms may include fever, headache,
fatigue, runny nose, tummy ache, sore throat and joint
symptoms, the patient is contagious and will spread the
virus to others. This phase lasts for 2 – 3 days
It is about a
week later that the rash develops and thus it often
isn’t linked to the earlier symptoms. The rash is bright
red and not contagious. In adults, the rash is less
likely but there will be joint pain and swelling.
rash will become less intense and spread to the trunk
and limbs. It becomes a bit blotchy and forms patterns
across the body. By about a week, the main rash will
have gone but it may recur on and off for another week
to month, especially when the child is hot.
is it caught and avoided?
Slap cheek is
caused by Parvovirus B19 and is spread by respiratory
droplets. That is, the virus moves in the air after
someone sneezes or coughs and can be breathed in. It can
also be spread by saliva so the sharing of utensils,
toys in mouths and kissing should also be avoided.
There is no
vaccine or treatment for slap cheek; nature must take
Immunosuppressed patients may
have immune enhancing treatments if required.
To contain the
spread of slap cheek, good hygiene and avoiding patients
are necessary. Washing hands and carefully disposing of
used tissues and the like are important precautions.
slap cheek are not required to be excluded from school.
By the time slap cheek has been identified, the child is
no longer contagious.
there are complications with slap cheek?
Although it is
more unpleasant for adults, there is no real concern
about people with slap cheek. The joint pain in adults
usually lasts 1 – 2 weeks, but it can linger for months.
result from people with sickle cell anaemia, AIDS,
chemotherapy treatments, steroid medications and other
immune weaknesses; these people may also remain
infectious for months.
babies will be unaffected by their Mother having slap
cheek and there is no proof that having slap cheek
whilst pregnant will cause any birth defects.
However, if an
unborn baby manages to get slap cheek, there is a
problem. The infection results in the production of red
blood cells being interrupted in the baby. Thus, the
foetus is likely to develop anaemia and heart failure,
and faces the risk of up to 9% of death (miscarriage or
still birth.) Only 2 – 3% of infected pregnant women
have an infected foetus.
It is a
contagious disease, but not highly so. A recent study in
Denmark showed that only 13% of susceptible, pregnant
women actually caught slap cheek, and about half of all
women are already immune anyway.
woman who is exposed to slap cheek and unsure of her
immunity to it will have a blood test. This test will
determine if the woman is immune and whether or not she
has picked up the virus. Unfortunately, there is no cure
for slap cheek so the woman will be monitored until the
risk has passed.
Tash Hughes is
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