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Slapped Cheek or Fifth Disease

slapped check baby girl with her mother

Slapped cheek syndrome is known as the “fifth” disease. It is a viral infection and it is very common in children. However, it is possible to have it at a different age as well. Most commonly, children between the age of 3 and 15 will get it. It seems more prevalent during late winter and early spring months. Slapped cheek disease is characterized by the bright red rash on the cheeks of the person who has it, which is where the name comes from.

What Is Fifth Disease?
Fifth disease is an illness that develops in three main stages. The first stage is when patients usually develop a sore throat, headache, fever, itchy skin, an upset stomach and feel very tired. At the second stage, the tell-tale slapped cheeks rash starts to occur, sometime still accompanies by the signs and symptoms of the first stage. In the third and last stage, the rash will spread to other parts of the bodies, generally the chest, back, neck and stomach. In adults, it is more common for the second stage to be less noticeable and for the rash to occur on the extremities.

Slapped Cheek Treatment
Usually, this disease does not require any treatment at all. It is a mild condition and often has no effects other than the red marks, which pass after a few days. If children develop a fever or find the rash itchy, paracetamol and antihistamines could be used. In adults, it is more common to also develop some stiffness and aches in the joints, and it may be useful here to also take some ibuprofen or other NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs). If the temperature of the patient rises above 39 degrees or if the symptoms suddenly get worse, it is time to see a medical professional.

Slapped Cheek Causes
Slapped cheek syndrome is caused by a virus, which is parvovirus B19. The slapped cheek virus is airborne, which means it is spread through coughs and sneezes, just like the flu and the common cold. It is very easy to spread the illness about, unfortunately. On the plus side, you should only be able to get slapped cheek once and it is unlikely that any serious symptoms were to happen.

Slapped Cheek Complications
It is very rare for complications to occur as a result of slapped cheek. However, the following three things have been noticed on rare occasions:
• Those with rare blood disorders, like sickle cell anemia, are more likely to develop complications. With sickle cell, people do not have sufficient red blood cells, which means the immune system is left severely compromised.
• Pregnant women with low immunity are also at risk. The Parvovirus B19 has been linked to anemia, not in the least because the unborn child can become anemic.
• People with a weakened or compromised immune system, such as those with HIV or those going through chemotherapy. With these people, slapped cheek can take far longer to heal and the symptoms of the infection can be much more severe.


If you are in one of these high risk groups and develop suspected fifth disease, you must seek medical attention as soon as possible. You may require hospital treatment including a blood transfusion as treatment for slap cheek.

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