Slapped cheek syndrome

Slapped cheek syndrome (fifth disease) is common in children and should clear up on its own within 3 weeks. It's rarer in adults but can be more serious.

Check if it’s slapped cheek syndrome

The first sign of slapped cheek syndrome is usually feeling unwell for a few days. Symptoms may include:

  • a high temperature of 38C or more
  • a runny nose and sore throat
  • headache

How long it lasts

The cheek rash normally fades within 2 weeks.

The body rash also fades within 2 weeks but sometimes comes and goes for up to a month - especially if you’re exercising, hot, anxious or stressed.

Adults might also have joint pain and stiffness. This can continue for many weeks, even after the other symptoms have gone.

If you're not sure it's slapped cheek syndrome

Look at other rashes in babies and children.

Things you can do yourself

You don’t usually need to see a GP for slapped cheek syndrome. There are some things you can do to ease symptoms while it clears up.

Do

  • rest
  • drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration - babies should continue their normal feeds
  • take paracetamol or ibuprofen for high temperature, headaches or joint pain
  • use moisturiser on itchy skin
  • speak to a pharmacist if you have itchy skin - they can recommend the best antihistamine for children

Don't

  • give aspirin to children under 16

Tell your midwife or GP if you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system and have been near someone with slapped cheek syndrome.

See a GP if you think you have slapped cheek syndrome and:

  • you’re pregnant - there’s a very small risk of miscarriage or other complications
  • you have a blood disorder - such as sickle cell anaemia or thalassaemia - there's a risk of severe anaemia
  • you have a weakened immune system - for example, because of chemotherapy or diabetes

Ask for an urgent appointment if you have:

  • very pale skin
  • shortness of breath
  • extreme tiredness
  • fainting

These can be signs of severe anaemia and you might be sent to hospital for a blood transfusion.

How slapped cheek syndrome is spread

It's hard to avoid spreading slapped cheek syndrome - as most people don’t know they have it until they get the rash. You can only it spread to other people before the rash appears.

Slapped cheek syndrome is caused by a virus (parvovirus B19). The virus spreads to other people, surfaces or objects by coughing or sneezing near them. To reduce the risk of spreading the virus:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible

You don’t have to stay off work or school after the rash appears. Let the school or teacher know if your child has slapped cheek syndrome.

Call 111

If you can’t speak to your GP or don’t know what to do next.

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