Fifth disease or erythema infectiosum

Commonly referred to as fifth disease, erythema infectiosum is among the most prevalent childhood illnesses. Fortunately, this infection is generally harmless and adequate care can relieve children who are affected by it. 

What is fifth disease?

Fifth disease is a viral infection which usually isn't serious, caused by the parvovirus B19. It is mainly seen in children between the ages of 5 and 15, but can also affect younger children and adults. Once the infection is gone, the affected person is considered to be immunized (protected) for life.

Fifth disease is contagious. It can be contracted the same way as the cold virus, that is:

  • by putting one's fingers in one's mouth after having touched an infected person
  • by putting one's fingers in one's mouth after having touched an object contaminated by an infected person, and
  • by inhaling droplets in the air which were projected by an infected person when they cough or sneeze

Signs and symptoms generally appear 4 to 14 days after having contracted the infection, sometimes more. Everyone infected by the fifth disease virus is contagious for a few days before the illness's typical skin rash appears. The infectious period ends as soon as the skin rash is visible.

What are the signs and symptoms of fifth disease?

Initial symptoms of fifth disease are often confused with other illnesses such as a cold:

  • low-grade fever
  • headache
  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose, and
  • stomach ache

A reddish rash then appears, giving the impression that the child has been slapped on the cheeks. The rash spreads to the arms, torso, and the rest of the body. It causes itching and typical symptoms include red plaques resembling lace.

Intensity of symptoms varies from one person to another. In some cases, the infection goes unnoticed or is confused with a cold. Fifth disease is usually harmless, but it can be more serious in certain groups of individuals:

  • children with anemia
  • adults
  • individuals with a weakened immune system, and
  • pregnant women

How can signs and symptoms of fifth disease be relieved?

There is no treatment for fifth disease. The infection must follow its course. However, measures can be taken to relieve symptoms. Here are some examples:

  • have your child drink plenty of liquids
  • have your child rest
  • use acetaminophen to relieve fever and pain. It is important to avoid aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) or any product containing aspirin
  • use cold compresses to relieve itching
  • add colloidal oatmeal powder to bath water, as it also relieves itching
  • have your child wear light and soft clothing. Avoid coarse fabrics
  • keep your child's nails clean and short and make him/her wear gloves at night to avoid scratching

Some creams and lotions available at the pharmacy can also be useful. Your pharmacist can guide you to choose the most appropriate product.

When should you see a doctor?

Although it is a harmless viral infection, as mentioned earlier, fifth disease can be more serious in some people. It is necessary to see a doctor in the following circumstances:

  • presence of significant fever (over 38.9oC)
  • presence of joint pain
  • if your child has anemia, and
  • if your child's immune system is weakened

Regardless of the situation, if you have questions, don't hesitate to speak to your pharmacist, who will guide you to the appropriate resources.

Pregnant women who are not immunized against fifth disease can transmit the virus to their baby. In some cases, complications can occur. Therefore, it is important for a pregnant woman to see a doctor if she presents signs and symptoms after having had contact with an infected person.

How can fifth disease be prevented?

Although there are vaccines for several childhood diseases, this is not the case for fifth disease. The infection is difficult to prevent, but certain basic measures help to protect children:

  • Ask them to wash their hands regularly, especially if they have just coughed, sneezed or blown their nose.
  • Teach children to sneeze or cough into a tissue or in the crook of their elbow.
  • Disinfect surfaces which may have become contaminated by an infected person with an alcohol-based cleaner.
  • Avoid all contact with an infected person during the infectious period.

How can your pharmacist help?

If you think that your child or someone around you has contracted fifth disease, your pharmacist can direct you to the appropriate resources depending on the situation. In some cases, a medical visit is necessary. Your pharmacist will also answer your questions about the disease and infection prevention measures.

There are several ways to relieve the symptoms of fifth disease without a prescription. Your pharmacist can advise you about the best solutions according to the situation and to the affected person's particular characteristics. Pharmacists can inform you about the recommended use of products and complementary measures to be taken to relieve your child's symptoms. Do not hesitate to speak with them.

Small children often fall prey to various childhood diseases—chicken pox, roseola, fifth disease, etc. Being able to recognize the signs and symptoms will enable you to act quickly and to offer your loved one all the support and comfort needed.

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Fifth disease or erythema infectiosum

Commonly referred to as fifth disease, erythema infectiosum is among the most prevalent childhood illnesses. Fortunately, this infection is generally harmless and adequate care can relieve children who are affected by it. 
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