Here in Central Texas, many families are dealing with their fair share of coughs, colds and fevers. Many viruses cycle their way through communities, and one of these common viruses is Human Parvovirus (not to be confused with the parvovirus that infects pets).
Parvovirus is an infection that causes a rash, fever and other symptoms, known as Erythema infectiosum. Another name for this is “fifth disease.”
Fifth disease is quite common in children. Adults can also get it. Often, people with fifth disease have no symptoms or only mild symptoms that last a week or so.
When symptoms do occur, they can include: fever, headache, sore throat, itching, cough, upset stomach—with diarrhea, nausea, vomiting—conjunctivitis (also called pink eye) and muscle aches. It can often be mistaken for the flu, because it shares many of the same symptoms. These first symptoms usually last about 2 to 5 days.
After that, symptoms can include a rash on the face (often called a “slapped cheek” rash, because it makes the child’s cheeks look bright red). After the rash on the face appears, a rash can also appear on the chest, back, arms and legs. This rash makes a pattern that looks like lace and is often referred to as a “lacy-reticular rash.”
The good news is that children often feel better by the time they get the rash.
Sometimes, the rash will disappear but come back after several days. Sunlight, temperature changes (like warm baths), exercise or stress can all make the rash return or look more prominent.
People with certain medical conditions can get sicker with fifth disease than other people. They include:
People who have problems with the body’s infection-fighting system, also known as the immune system.
People who have certain conditions that affect red blood cells, such as sickle cell disease or thalassemia.
Parents often wonder if there is a specific test for fifth disease. Your health care provider can usually tell if someone has fifth disease by learning about the symptoms and doing a physical exam.
If there is doubt, your provider can order a blood test for the virus that causes fifth disease. Most times no testing is done because there is no “cure” for fifth disease; it is an infection that requires no medication and will resolve on its own.
Fifth disease is a concern for pregnant women; it can potentially be dangerous for the unborn child. If you are pregnant and have symptoms of fifth disease, or are around someone who has it, tell your health care provider right away. Your provider can order a blood test to see if you have the infection. He or she can also order tests to see if your unborn baby has the infection.
If you suspect your child has fifth disease, you can treat him at home with lots of rest, fever medications (if needed) and plenty of fluids. Seek medical care if your child has an immune or blood disorder and has symptoms of fifth disease. Also, see your health care provider if you or your child have symptoms lasting more than a month.
Fifth disease is an illness caused by common contact with others. The best way to prevent infection is frequent hand-washing with soap and water. However, if you or your child contract fifth disease, don’t despair. Most people successfully fight the infection with a little tender love, care and adequate rest.
Dr. Bradley Berg, M.D., Ph.D., serves as medical director of pediatrics at Baylor Scott & White – Round Rock.