What is Fifth Disease?

Q: My child came home with a note from day care saying that fifth disease is going around. Should I be worried?

A: Fifth disease, also known as Erythema Infectiosum, if a viral infection that causes a characteristic rash. It is called fifth disease because it was the fifth disease noted in a classification scheme of childhood rashes. For interest sake, the preceding four are measles, scarlet fever, rubella and atypical scarlet fever. Roseola is the “sixth disease”

The infection is a benign, self-limited illness. A bit of a fever, a headache and some symptoms of a cold can precede the rash. The rash comes in stages, starting with a very red facial rash that is described as “slapped cheeks.” The slapped cheeks can sometimes be accompanied by red dots on the face as well.

The second stage of the rash involves the body, with again some red dots and a lacy looking rash all over. The children at this point do not have a fever, nor do they appear ill. The children sometimes complain of some itching.  he rash can last about 1-3 weeks. 

The only real concern with fifth disease concerns pregnant women. Women in the second trimester can sometimes have a complication from this virus (it is rare, but you may want to discuss it at an early obstetric visit). 

Should your child have a fever longer than three days,  appears ill with the rash, or has other symptoms, you may want to contact your child’s health care provider.

By Sharon Rink, MD, pediatrician, ThedaCare Physicians-Darboy