What is Fifth Disease and How Did the Disease Get Its Name?
Fifth disease is a viral infection. Early in the 1900s a French physician assigned numbers to childhood diseases characterized by rashes. Thus, measles was known as the first disease and so on. But fifth disease got to keep its name, unlike the others. At present it is also known as the "slapped-cheek disease" because of the pattern of distribution of rashes on the face that mimics a slapped cheek appearance.
What Causes Fifth Disease?
Exposure to a virus called human parvovirus B19 or simply parvo B19 usually causes the disease in children who are commonly infected through respiratory transfer of the organisms. Young children who have not yet acquired the disease are susceptible because of their physical contact with other children and adults who may be harboring the virus. Sneezing, coughing, talking and other forms of close physical contact help to spread the virus that is in the saliva and respiratory secretions of an ill person.
Adults can also acquire the infection if they have not yet been exposed to it previously although almost half of the population has already been infected in the past. In addition, people who have other health conditions that cause them to have a decreased resistance to infection are also susceptible to parvo B19 and may harbor the virus for a long time.
Spread of the virus or the stage at which it is contagious is when an individual is experiencing the early stages mimicking flu symptoms just before the rashes appear. By the time the slapped cheek appearance is seen the child is probably not contagious anymore. For this reason the child may return to school even with the rashes. This is unlike other diseases with skin rashes like measles in which a child remains contagious while still manifesting rashes.
An infected person usually becomes ill between four days to two weeks after exposure but may experience symptoms up to 20 days later. Adults may experience joint pains in addition to rashes and respiratory symptoms.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Fifth Disease
The characteristic history and the pattern of rash distribution aid in diagnosing the disease. Confirmation may be done by testing the blood for the presence of antibodies to the virus.
Fifth disease is generally a mild disease and may resolve on its own. However, antipyretics and other medications may be given to alleviate fever and other symptoms of flu. In addition, rest and adequate hydration with fluids may help in treating the symptoms.
In a few instances when an infected individual is suffering from other conditions causing him to be more ill such as anemia, leukemia or cancer, symptoms may be more pronounced. Proper treatment of these problems is done with medical consultation for more special medical care.
There are no vaccines or specific medications for Fifth disease. Prevention from infection may be accomplished by avoiding close contact with people who appear to have symptoms of respiratory disease. Proper and frequent hand-washing and avoiding sharing of utensils, towels and personal stuff are the best ways to prevent infection and spread of the disease.
WebMD, “Fifth Disease – Topic Overview”, https://children.webmd.com/tc/fifth-disease-topic-overview
CDC, “Parvovirus B19 (Fifth Disease)”, https://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvrd/revb/respiratory/parvo_b19.htm