Fifth Disease: The “Slapped Cheek Syndrome” Experience…Mental Notes For Mama

Have you ever wondered what Fifth Disease is or what it actually looks like?

I’ve heard of Fifth Disease aka “Slapped Cheek Syndrome” before but never came in contact with anyone who actually had the virus. Now that I have four children I swear I have experience with just about every illness there is out there these days.  Fifth Disease is now one of those illnesses I can say “I’ve been there, done that.”  

They call it Slapped Cheek Syndrome because when the rash actually breaks out it typically starts on the cheeks.  It looks as though your child was just slapped on the face.  Take a look below.

It then spreads to the child’s trunk, having a lacy net-like appearance.

Lastly, spreading to the extremities.

What Is Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease (also called erythema infectiosum) is caused by parvovirus B19, causing a viral illness that affects children ages 5-15 years of age.  It typically begins with a low-grade fever and cold like symptoms, ending with a lacy net-like type of rash.  The rash starts on the face and look as if someone just slapped then hence being called “Slapped Cheek Syndrome.”  Fifth disease doesn’t usually have any lasting effects in otherwise healthy children and adults. However, if contracted while pregnant or in a person who is immuno-compromised (has a weak immune system), complications can arise.

SIGNS & SYMPTOMS of Fifth Disease:

  • Virus begins with a low-grade fever and mild cold-like symptoms (a stuffy or runny nose). 
  • Some children will complain of a headache or possible joint pain.  
  • Once these symptoms starts to diminish and the fever breaks, a lacy net-like type of rash appears a few days later.  

The rash starts on the face and look as if someone just slapped them, hence being called “Slapped Cheek Syndrome/Disease.”  The rash with then spread to the child’s trunk (chest, stomach, & back) and then their extremities (arms & legs).  The rash usually fades within 5-10 days of onset. Certain stimuli (sunlight, heat, exercise, and stress) may reactivate or aggravate the rash until it completely fades.  Older kids and adults may complain that the rash itches and are more likely to have joint pain.  The majority of children with this rash don’t complain of itching, do not look sick, and no longer have a fever.  

Is Fifth Disease Contagious? 

Yes, very contagious.  It’s spread through

  • respiratory droplets - fluids from the nose, mouth, and throat of a person with the infection, specifically when the person coughs and/or sneezes
  • contact with infected blood products.

A child is the most contagious before the rash breaks out.  The incubation period (the time between the initial infection and the onset of symptoms) is usually between 4 and 21 days. People with fifth disease are most contagious before the onset of symptoms and while experiencing  respiratory symptoms.


Diagnosing Fifth Disease:

diagnose fifth disease by the distinctive rash on the face and body. If a child or adult has no telltale rash but has been sick for a while, a doctor may perform blood tests to see if the illness could be caused by parvovirus B19.

A doctor can usually diagnose fifth disease by observing the characteristic “slapped-cheek” rash on face or lacy net-like rash on body.  If symptoms are not evident; a blood test will be given to determine the cause.


The majority of children don’t feel very sick while infected with Fifth Disease.  Very little treatment is needed if any.  Over the counter medications can be given to help with fever and possible itching.


There is no vaccine or medication to prevent fifth disease infection. It is difficult to prevent as a person is most contagious when they are symptoms free or just have mild cold-like symptoms.  Although it is always a good idea to stay away from those who have fevers as any illness could cause it.  Frequent hand washing and being aware of any outbreaks in your area is key, especially when pregnant or immuno-compromised.


Mental Notes For Mama…

Have you ever experienced something and said to yourself…I better made a “mental note” for next time!?

Mental Notes For Mama is simply a way I share my experiences and what I have learned from them with other mothers.  Hoping I don’t forget them myself and can help someone else along the way.


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