What Causes Fifth Disease?

Fifth disease, sometimes called fifth’s disease, is a viral infection that causes cold or flu symptoms. Some people with fifth disease develop a rash on the face. Fifth disease can cause pain in the joints. The infection may last a few weeks before the symptoms subside. What causes fifth disease?

Fifth disease is caused by a virus called human parvovirus B19. Human parvovirus B19 is not the same as the parvovirus that can infect dogs and cats. Pets are safe from contracting human parvovirus B19. People who become infected with human parvovirus may think that a dog or cat is to blame, but parvovirus that infects dogs and cats does not infect humans.

The virus is typically spread by the coughing and sneezing of the infected person. The viral infection can be spread while the infected person has symptoms that resemble the flu or a cold. If the person with fifth disease develops a red rash on the face, the person is no longer contagious.

People with weak immune systems and some blood disorders may be contagious longer than usual. Not everyone with fifth disease gets the rash associated with this condition. As a general rule, children with fifth disease can return to school the day after they develop the fifth disease rash.

There is an increase of cases of fifth disease during the winter and spring. Fifth disease is more common in children than in adults. Adults who get fifth disease are more likely experience joint pain than children. Fifth disease can be dangerous for the unborn child of a pregnant woman who gets this infection.

Because the rash only appears several days after the onset of the infection, people may expose many others to the human parvovirus B19 without knowing it. People may have the infection for up to fourteen days before the rash appears. Some people who acquire fifth disease may not experience any symptoms at all but may still spread the infection. Since people are often unaware of their infection for several days, elementary school outbreaks of fifth disease are relatively common.

Fifth disease can usually be treated effectively with home treatment. People with a human parvovirus B19 infection should rest and drink plenty of fluids. Acetaminophen should be used for fever and body aches. Aspirin should be avoided due to the risk of Reye syndrome. Most people do not experience any complications with fifth disease. Pregnant women who suspect they have contracted fifth disease should consult their doctors immediately.


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