Fifth Disease: Care Instructions

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Fifth disease is a viral illness that is much more common in children than adults. It is also known as "slapped cheek disease" because of the red rash some people develop on their faces. Fifth disease is spread mostly by coughs and sneezes. By the time the rash appears, you can no longer spread the disease to anyone else. Once you have been infected with this virus, you cannot get it again.

Fifth disease can make you feel like you are coming down with the flu. You may have a runny nose, sore throat, headache, belly pain, and achy joints. A few days later, you may get a bright red rash on your cheeks and then later over the rest of the body. The rash may last for 7 to 10 days. The rash may come and go for several weeks. You may get swollen, red joints that can last for several weeks or even months.

Self-care at home, such as rest, fluids, and pain relievers, is usually the only care you need for fifth disease. Doctors do not use antibiotics to treat fifth disease, because it is caused by a virus rather than bacteria.

If you are pregnant and have been exposed to fifth disease, talk with your doctor. There is a very small chance that your baby may develop anemia. Likewise, talk with your doctor if you have any form of long-term anemia and are exposed to fifth disease. Fifth disease can make anemia worse.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Get extra rest while you have symptoms of fifth disease.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
  • Take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve), to reduce fever and aches. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. No one younger than 20 should take aspirin. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Do not take two or more pain medicines at the same time unless the doctor told you to. Many pain medicines have acetaminophen, which is Tylenol. Too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can be harmful.
  • Do not scratch your rash. If your rash itches:
    • Add a handful of oatmeal (ground to a powder) to your bath. Or you can try an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno.
    • Take an over-the-counter antihistamine, if your doctor says it is okay. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You feel weak or tired.
  • Your skin has become much more pale.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You are pregnant and were recently exposed to fifth disease.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.