Fifth disease is usually a mild infection and at times goes undetected. When the rash does appear, however, it is very distinctive. This illness, caused by a virus named Parvovirus B19, may be seen anywhere in the world. It is transmitted most often by an infected person coughing or sneezing.

Fifth disease got its name from the fact that similar rash and fever illnesses common in children such as measles were numbered. This one just happened to be number five.


  • A mild cold and low-grade fever (less than 101 degrees F) may precede the onset of the rash.
  • At first, the rash appears as very red cheeks that look like the child has been slapped in the face.
  • Redness quickly spreads to the trunk, legs and arms, where it looks similar to lace.
  • The rash may disappear in three to four days only to return periodically within a several week period.
  • Mild joint pains, especially in a child’s ankle, may be noted.


Fifth disease is generally very mild and requires only supportive treatment, such as rest, fluids, and analgesics (if needed) for aching or fever. Children may return to school or day care after the rash erupts, as they are no longer contagious.

Call your Doctor if

  • The diagnosis is in doubt.
  • Symptoms are prolonged and associated with fever and joint pain.
  • The child with fifth disease comes in contact with a pregnant woman.

Fifth disease usually requires no treatment and is a fairly common childhood illness. However, if a woman is exposed to the disease during her pregnancy there can be consequences to the baby. In that case, consult a physician.