Fifth Disease in Adults

Although fifth disease or slapped-cheek syndrome is more common in children, it's not limited to them. Fifth disease in adults can be pretty common too! There have been many cases of infection by parvovirus B19 producing fifth disease in adults. Although the proper name for fifth disease, erythema infectiosum translates to "infectious redness", this is actually a misnomer. Usually once the rash develops, the patient is no longer contagious and will not pass on the virus to anyone else.

The symptoms of infection by parvovirus B19 are relatively similar to a cold or flu;  headaches, joint pain and fever being the most common. Not all people experience these symptoms and in adults women are the most susceptible. Fifth disease is characterized by a red rash on the face (hence the name "slapped-cheek syndrome") and sometimes the upper arms. This usually appears a few days after the other symptoms have faded and in some cases the rash may become itchy or irritating for the sufferer, this mostly occurs in older children and adults and not in young children. Again, not all patients will develop a rash either and adults are less likely to have this symptom.

5th Disease in Adults The infection is usually not serious, the virus will clear up on its own and the best treatment is simply pain medicine such as Ibuprofen to soothe the joints along with plenty of rest. However, if you have an existing blood disorder, heart problems, have a weak immune system or if you are pregnant, you should consult with your family doctor for advice. Also, the Parvovirus B19 can invade the joints and result in septic arthritis developing so go see your doctor if joint pain persists or increases in intensity.

Unfortunately, there is no vaccine or cure available for Parvovirus B19 infection. If you have had it during childhood - and many that have don't remember it - then your body will have developed immunity to the disease, preventing you from becoming infected again at any time in the future. If you wish to know whether or not you have been infected before, you can go to your doctor and have a blood test done to determine whether your blood contains the antibodies required to fight the Parvovirus B19. It is estimated that around 50% of adults already have these antibodies.

For those who have not had the virus before, those adults most at risk are those who work with children such as nursery nurses, healthcare professionals and teachers. There is around a 50% chance of becoming infected if a family member in your household currently has the disease and around a 20-30% chance if you work with kids on a regular basis. If you do work with children as part of your daily routine then there are things you can do to minimize the risk of spreading the virus that causes fifth disease such as regular hand washing and discouraging children from sharing drinking cups and cutlery.

Remember, if the child has the tell tale rash symptom of fifth disease they are no longer contagious.