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Fifth Disease

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about fifth disease.

Fifth disease is a mild rash illness caused by a virus called parvovirus B19.

The basics

Who gets fifth disease?

Anyone can get it but it is more common in children than adults.

Should pregnant women worry about fifth disease?

Fifth disease is usually not a problem for pregnant women and their babies. About half of pregnant women are immune to parvovirus B19. Pregnant women who are not immune usually have only mild illness if exposed to fifth disease. The babies of infected pregnant mothers usually do not have any problems. Rarely, a baby will develop severe anemia caused by its mother's infection, and the woman may have a miscarriage. This happens less than 5% of the time among all pregnant women with parvovirus B19 infection, and happens more commonly during the first half of pregnancy.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms?

The first symptoms of fifth disease are usually mild and may include:

  • fever
  • runny nose
  • headache

After several days, some people may get a red rash on their face. People may also develop a second rash a few days later on their chest, back, buttocks, arms, or legs. The rash may be itchy, especially on the soles of the feet. It usually goes away in 7 to 10 days, but it can come and go for several weeks. People with fifth disease can also develop pain and swelling in their joints. The joint pain usually lasts 1 to 3 weeks, but it can last for months or longer. It usually goes away without any long-term problems.

Is fifth disease dangerous?

Fifth disease is usually mild for healthy people. People with weakened immune systems caused by leukemia, cancer, organ transplants, or HIV infection are at risk for serious complications from fifth disease.

How is fifth disease spread?

Parvovirus B19 spreads through respiratory secretions, such as saliva, sputum, or nasal mucus. When an infected person coughs or sneezes they can spread the virus to others. Parvovirus B19 can also spread through blood or blood products. An infected pregnant woman with parvovirus B19 can pass the virus to her baby.



How is fifth disease diagnosed?

Often, healthcare providers diagnose fifth disease by physical examination (appearance of rash). You can also get a blood test to determine if you have protection against parvovirus B19 infection. This blood test is particularly helpful for pregnant women who may have exposure to parvovirus B19 and may have fifth disease.

Prevention

How can I prevent fifth disease?

There is no vaccine or medicine that can prevent parvovirus B19 infection. You can reduce your chance of infection by:

  • washing your hands often with soap and water
  • covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze
  • not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • staying home when you are sick

Treatment

Is there treatment for fifth disease?

Fifth disease is usually mild and will go away on its own. Treatment usually involves relieving symptoms, such as fever, itching, and joint pain and swelling. People who have complications from fifth disease should see their healthcare provider. 

Can you get fifth disease more than once?

No. Once you have had fifth disease, you cannot get it again.

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