Slapped cheek (also known as fifth disease) is a common childhood illness. It is caused by the human parvovirus B19. It causes bright red cheeks – like you’ve been slapped – and a lace-like rash on the body.
Slapped cheek is a mild disease and most children will have only mild symptoms. Once infected the time until symptoms appear is between 4 and 20 days. Early symptoms may include: low-grade fever, chills, headache, body ache, sore throat, diarrhea. After 3–7 days these symptoms improve and a rash develops. This starts with firm, bright red cheeks that are burning hot (‘slapped cheek’).
A fine, red, lace-like rash then develops on the child’s body, arms and legs. The rash may be itchy and may seem to fade and then flare up when the child is hot or upset. The rash usually lasts for 2 weeks but may last up to 6 weeks. Adults with slapped cheek are less likely to have a rash but may suffer from painful, swollen joints, especially in the hands and feet.
The joint pain may last for 1–2 weeks and in some more severe cases up to 6 weeks. If you catch slapped cheek, you’ll be infectious for 5 or 6 days before the first symptom appears. You’ll stop being infectious once the rash appears.
How is it spread?
Slapped cheek is passed on by airborne droplets from an infected person, mainly by close contact, coughing and sneezing.
As slapped cheek is infectious before it is diagnosed, keeping your child home from preschool or school will not prevent the spread of the disease.
If you are exposed to slapped cheek, try to stop it spreading by making sure you and your children:
- wash your hands frequently
- cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
- do not share food, eating utensils and drink bottles.
Also try to avoid contact with pregnant women and people who have low immunity to disease.