Fifth Disease In Children: Its Causes And Home Remedies

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Fifth disease in children is a viral infection caused by Parvovirus that results in a red rash, formed mainly on the cheeks of the child, which also gives it the name slapped cheek disease. The rashes due to this condition can also spread to the arms and legs of the child.

The fifth disease is named so because it is the fifth most common viral rash disease in children, with the other four being rubella, roseola, chickenpox, and measles. Another name for the fifth disease is erythema infectiosum (1).

The fifth disease is more common among school-going children aged between five and 15 years, and the outbreaks are usually observed during early spring and late winter (2).

MomJunction answers your questions about the fifth disease and discusses its causes, symptoms, and home remedies. Keep reading.

Symptoms Of Fifth Disease In Children

The symptoms of this disease occur in three stages, and the intensity of the rashes might also vary according to the stage.

  • Stage 1: The early stages of this disease starts with cold-like symptoms such as fever, running nose, headache, sore throat, and muscle aches. The child may feel cranky and tired. It usually takes four to 14 days for the first symptoms to appear upon exposure to the virus.
  • Stage 2: This is the stage where the skin rashes first appear, which is around a week to ten days after the first stage symptoms. These rashes first appear on the cheeks and give them a rosy red appearance. The child might also look pale around the mouth.
  • Stage 3: In this stage, the rashes start appearing on the child’s arms, legs, and trunk. This rash would be flat, purple-red, and lacy. It is painless but sometimes might itch. This second rash might take one to three weeks to fade (3).

In children with blood-related disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, or immune-deficiency or cancer, this disease usually does not produce a rash, but the child would suffer from severe anemia and have symptoms such as rapid breathing, paleness, rapid pulse, and fever (4).

Fifth Disease Rash Pictures

Fifth Disease Rash Pictures
Image: Shutterstock

What Causes Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease is caused by a virus called Parvovirus B19. It infects only humans. Therefore, you or your child cannot catch the virus from a pet, and vice versa (1). In children with a healthy immune system, the fifth disease is a mild infection that rarely has complications in the long run.

[Read: Scarlet Fever In Children]

Is Fifth Disease Contagious?

Yes, the fifth disease is contagious and can transmit from one person to another through saliva or respiratory discharges like a cough, sputum, nasal discharge, or sneeze. The transmission of this virus often occurs around one week before the onset of symptoms (1).

Some children infected with parvovirus do not show symptoms, but they might be contagious enough to spread the virus to others.

The affected child is the most contagious during the initial symptoms, such as fever. Once the rash appears, they will no longer remain contagious and could go back to school. However, those with a weak immune system may be contagious for a longer time.

What Are The Complications Associated With The Fifth Disease?

The fifth disease is usually mild and not dangerous. But it may exacerbate the effects in children who have some type of anemia (or low red blood cell count), or a weak immune system due to conditions like HIV or leukemia. It has also been described to cause myocarditis.

When To See A Doctor?

Go to a doctor if the symptoms get worse with time or if your child suffers from joint swellings. If the child has some type of anemia, such as sickle cell anemia, contact a healthcare professional immediately after they get a fever or look pale. This is because a fifth disease can cause the body to produce fewer red blood cells (4).

How Is Fifth Disease Diagnosed?

Doctors usually diagnose the fifth disease by simply observing and examining the rashes, especially the sign of a ‘slapped cheek’ on the kid’s face.

However, if the child does not have the distinctive rash, but has all the other symptoms, the doctor may order a blood test to confirm the cause of the symptoms, i.e., to detect if parvovirus B19 is the cause of the infection.

Is There A Treatment For The Fifth Disease?

The fifth disease is a mild viral infection and generally does not require specific treatment. It usually clears up on its own without medication.

As the disease is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not used to treat it.

Symptomatic care could offer relief from rashes and fever (5). The doctor may prescribe acetaminophen for lowering any fever and aches, and antihistamines for relieving any itchiness of the rashes.

Most times, plenty of rest and home care are enough for the child to recover from the disease.

[Read: Hives In Children]

Home Remedies For Fifth Disease

Here are certain things you can do at home to relieve the symptoms of the fifth disease:

  • Vitamin C
    It does not cure the disease but might make the immune system stronger. Vitamin C is an antioxidant and has antiviral properties (6). You can offer your kid lemon or orange juice rich in this vitamin.
  • Apple cider vinegar
    This also has antiviral properties and might help in reducing the acidic nature of the body in which the virus could thrive (7).
  • Baking soda
    It is believed that baking soda baths might help to detoxify the body and help relieve the burning and itching sensation of the rashes. So, you might try this remedy too.

The fifth disease is mild, but the rashes could be irritating, and your child will have to miss school until the virus subsides. Therefore, take every measure to prevent the disease.

Can You Prevent The Fifth Disease?

There is no vaccine or medication to prevent Parvovirus. A probable way to avoid the infection is to maintain good personal hygiene.

If someone is infected, keep your child away from them to avoid contracting the virus. Do not allow the child to use any common utensils, towels, or toothbrushes of the infected person.

If your child has contracted the virus, ask them to:

  • Wash their hands with soap and water
  • Cover the mouth while coughing or sneezing
  • Not touch the nose or mouth
  • Avoid close contact with others
  • Stay at home until the symptoms are relieved

Children with a healthy immune system usually do not get the fifth disease for the second time. Although it cannot be cured with medicines, the fifth disease is mild and goes away on its own. There is no vaccine to prevent the disease, but you can try to avoid it by following good hygiene.

Do you have any other tips for dealing with the fifth disease? Share them in the comment box below.


1. Erica Weir; Parvovirus B19 infection: fifth disease and more; The Canadian Medical Association Journal
2. Sean Kostolansky; James R. Waymack; Erythema Infectiosum (Fifth Disease); NCBI
3. When Your Child Has Fifth Disease; Saint Luke’s Hospital
4. Fifth Disease (Erythema Infectiosum); Harvard Health Publishing
5. Fifth Disease; Centre for Health Protection; Department of Health- The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region
6. Yejin Kim, et al.;  Vitamin C Is an Essential Factor on the Anti-viral Immune Responses through the Production of Interferon-α/β at the Initial Stage of Influenza A Virus (H3N2) Infection; Immune Network
7. Gopal J, et al.; Authenticating apple cider vinegar’s home remedy claims: antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral properties and cytotoxicity aspec; NCBI (2019)

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