Slapped cheek disease is an infectious disease that mainly affects children between the ages of six and ten years old. It is also called Fifth Disease because it used to be the fifth most common childhood infection.
Slapped cheek disease is caused by a virus and often occurs in outbreaks at nursery and school. It is spread by droplets, which are released into the air by coughing and sneezing.
The incubation period between catching the virus and showing any symptoms is one to two weeks.
Slapped cheek disease often occurs in outbreaks because children can be infectious for up to two weeks before any signs appear. It is no longer infectious once the rash has appeared.
Once your child has had slapped cheek disease, he or she will not catch it again.
What are the symptoms of slapped cheek disease?
Your child may have a runny nose, rash, aches and pains, and a high temperature. To begin with, the rash appears on the cheeks making them look red - which is why it is called slapped cheek disease.
A few days later, the rash will appear on your child’s chest, arms and legs. The rash may fade a bit and then come back if your child gets hot after a bath, is in direct sunlight or runs about.
Some people can have slapped cheek disease and not have any symptoms, but they will still be able to pass the virus on to other people.
If your child has a chronic illness, particularly affecting his or her blood, you should see your GP if symptoms occur.
How is it treated?
In most children, slapped cheek disease is a mild illness, which gets better in a few days without any treatment. As a virus causes slapped cheek disease, antibiotics won’t help to treat it.
If your child has aches and pains, you can give him or her paracetamol according to the instructions on the bottle. Do not give aspirin, or medications containing aspirin, to children under sixteen years old.
You should encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids to reduce the chance of dehydration due to the high temperature.
The spread of slapped cheek disease can be reduced by frequent hand washing, putting your hand over your mouth when coughing and sneezing into a handkerchief or tissue.
What is the outlook for children with slapped cheek disease?
The vast majority of children recover completely within a few days, with no lasting effects.
If a pregnant woman comes into contact with or develops slapped cheek disease, she should see her GP as the disease can cause miscarriage. Ref: F030105 © GOSH Trust Feb 2004
Compiled by the Infectious Diseases Department in collaboration with the Child and Family Information Group.
This information does not constitute health or medical advice and will not necessarily reflect treatment at other hospitals. If you have any questions, please ask your doctor. No liability can be taken as a result of using this information.