Fifth Disease in Children: Care Instructions

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

Fifth disease can cause symptoms similar to the flu. Your child may have a runny nose, sore throat, headache, belly pain, and achy joints. A few days later, a bright red rash may appear on their cheeks and then may appear on the rest of the body. The rash may last for 7 to 10 days. The rash may come and go for several weeks.

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

Talk with your doctor if your child has any form of long-term anemia and is exposed to fifth disease. Fifth disease can make anemia worse.

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

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Be safe with medicines. Have your child take medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.
  • Make sure your child gets extra rest while your child has symptoms of fifth disease.
  • Have your child drink plenty of fluids. Fifth disease symptoms can dry out your child's body. If your child has kidney, heart, or liver disease and has to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids your child drinks.
  • Give acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for fever or pain. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • Help your child avoid scratching the rash. If the rash itches:
    • Add a handful of oatmeal (ground to a powder) to your child's bath. Or you can try an oatmeal bath product, such as Aveeno.
    • Ask your child's doctor if your child can take an over-the-counter antihistamine.
    • Have your child wear loose-fitting cotton clothing.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child feels weak and tired and has pale skin.
  • Your child has a fever, fast breathing, and a racing heart, and has no energy.

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

  • Your child does 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.