Fifth disease is a viral infection. It affects mostly children, but adults can get it, too. The most obvious symptom is a red rash on the face that looks like a “slapped cheek.”

Fifth disease is less common in adults, but it can cause joint pain. It can become serious in pregnant women or those with weakened immune systems.

Fifth disease got its name from its place on the standard list of common skin rash illness in children.

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What causes fifth disease?

Fifth disease is caused by an airborne virus called parvovirus B19. (It is not related to the parvovirus that pets get.) The virus spreads through coughs and sneezes.

What are fifth disease symptoms?

The first symptoms of fifth disease are general and mild. They include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea

After several days, these fifth disease symptoms may show up:

  • A red rash on the face that looks like a “slapped cheek” (more common in children)
  • Itchy skin rash on torso, arms, legs and feet
  • Painful, swollen joints (more common in adults)

The rash can last for several weeks. After the rash appears, you are no longer contagious. Joint pain can last for months, but it generally does not cause permanent problems.

How is fifth disease treated?

Fifth disease is caused by a virus, so it has to run its course. It usually lasts one to three weeks. No medications will shorten the illness. You can use over-the-counter treatments for fever, itching and joint pain.

Fifth disease can be dangerous in certain situations. Pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system should consult a healthcare provider.

If you are pregnant or have a weakened immune system, consult a healthcare provider if you have symptoms or have been around someone with fifth disease. Visit your nearest CareNow® urgent care clinic for diagnosis and treatment. You can minimize your wait time with our Web Check-In®.

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