Fifth disease (also known as erythema infectiosum) is a contagious virus whose medical name is parvovirus B19. This should not be confused with the parvovirus that is common to animals, especially dogs. Parvovirus B19 is called fifth disease as it is one of the common rash infections experienced during childhood (the other are measles, scarlet fever, rubella and another known simply as fourth disease). Although fifth disease is highly contagious, by the time it is diagnosed, it is most likely beyond the contagious phase and, therefore, there is no need to quarantine children with the illness, nor is there a need to keep them home from school.
Symptoms of fifth disease include:
- Red rash (Typically begins on the childs face. Sometimes looks like a slapped cheek)
- Runny nose
- Stuffy nose
- Swollen glands
- Red eyes
- Sore throat
- Joint pain or swelling (More common in older children with fifth disease)
It is important to note that a red facial rash is usually the last symptom to appear and by the time it does, a child is typically no longer infectious. While the rash may begin on a childs face, it often will spread to other parts of the childs body and may become irritated or reappear if the child is exposed to heavy sunlight.
The pre-rash incubation period of fifth disease lasts between four and twenty-eight days. Once a rash is present, it normally lasts up to three weeks. However, teens and adults may experience the rash along with painful and swollen joints for several months or even years.
Fifth disease is spread through bodily fluids secreted from the nose, throat, or mouth of an infected person. Its important that children are taught to cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing and to wash their hands afterwards, as the virus is spread largely through infected saliva and nasal secretions.
While fifth disease is not usually life-threatening, pregnant women who have never had fifth disease and who experience symptoms or believed they have been exposed to the virus should consult with their obstetrician immediately as fifth disease is harmful and even fatal to fetuses.
Most people who contract fifth disease develop immunity to it and, therefore, are unlikely to ever develop its symptoms again. However, if a person has never had fifth lives in the house with a person who is infected with the virus, there is a 50% chance that that person will also become infected.
Fifth disease is most commonly diagnosed through a blood test that can detect the presence of parvovirus B19. Although it is treatable through viral medications, no specific medication exists for fifth disease and it is most commonly not treated with any medications as it often goes away on its own. Fifth disease can be treated at home similar to how a common cold would be treated with lots of fluid and rest. Natural remedies for its symptoms may include:
- Herbal baths
- Oatmeal baths
- Baking soda baths
Patients who are experiencing headaches, fever, or joint pain are usually prescribed medications, like acetaminophen, to specifically treat those symptoms. Children with compromised immune systems or with rare blood disorders may experience more severe symptoms in which special medical treatment may be necessary.
Since fifth disease is a highly contagious virus, the best way to prevent it is by instilling in children the importance of frequent hand washing, keeping hands out of the mouth, nose, and eyes, and not eating or drinking after others. Its also important for healthy lifestyle options that work to build strong immune systems be practiced regularly. These options include, but are not limited to:
- Sleeping between eight and ten hours each night
- Eating large amounts of vitamin and mineral rich fruits and vegetables
- Eliminating stress
- Avoiding all processed foods and fast foods
- Avoiding foods containing processed sugars or artificial sweeteners
- Daily exercise
- Daily sunlight and fresh air
Its important that children are not the only ones to adhere to healthy lifestyle choices, but that adults in the household also model such ways of being so that it becomes a natural way of life for all family members.
Opting for a healthy lifestyle is not only a matter of diet and physical activity, but a life centered around holistic health, which includes a balance of mental, spiritual, and physical activities that keep both the mind and the body operating at optimal levels.