Fifth disease is caused by the human parvovirus B19, a viral infection. This virus commonly infects children, however adults without a previously developed immunity can come down with it also.
Parvovirus is spread through respiratory secretions, and if symptoms are present they might include:
- cold symptoms
- low grade fever ~ 101 degrees
- red cheek skin rash ~ potentially itchy
- arms, legs, trunk skin rash ~ sometimes itchy
Adults may also experience joint pain and swelling, often in their hands, wrist and knees. This stiffness usually resolves within a couple of weeks, but does have the potential for lasting several months.
Fifth disease is only contagious during the early part of the illness. Once the characteristic bright red cheek, aka “slapped cheek”, rash appears, one is no longer contagious. Worth noting about this particular rash causing illness is how it differs in the contagious aspect from other infections causing skin rashes. A notable example is with the measles you remain contagious during its rash period.
Fifth disease is a mild illness for those who are otherwise healthy. And it often resolves on its own without special treatment.
However, fifth disease can prove to be a more serious infectious disease if you have:
- sickle cell anemia
- weak immune system
- human immunodeficiency virus infection
For those in any of these situations, it is strongly advised that you contact your health care provider.
Any measurable attempts to prevent your spreading parvovirus B19 virus is probably fruitless, since your rash develops after the contagious period. During the time that you are contagious, you will likely believe you are only experiencing symptoms caused by the common cold.
As with most respiratory infections, a healthy precaution is to wash your hands regularly whenever in the company of others. Especially if you are in close contact or in a sharing of items environment.