Fifth disease, also known as erythema infectiosum, is caused by a virus which infects red blood cells. The virus affecting humans is the parvovirus (B19). This type of virus also affects animals, but these strains affect animals only and not humans. Recent studies have shown that fifth disease may bring about important complications in those who are already vulnerable due to diseases like sickle-cell anaemia and other types of blood diseases. Otherwise, anyone can be affected by fifth disease, but children are specially prone to contract the human parvovirus.
Who are more vulnerable to the Fifth Disease?
Cancer patients, people with compromised immunity, pregnant women and those with red blood cell diseases like the sickle cell anaemia are particularly vulnerable.
Infection and symptoms of Fifth Disease
Infection occurs via inhaling air contaminated with the virus. It is spread via respiratory secretions like saliva, sputum, nasal mucus. When a diseased person coughs or sneezes, the virus is transmitted to the air, contaminating it.
- Runny nose
- Red rash appearing on cheeks giving a slapped-cheek appearance
- Rashes spread around the body
- Rashes then fade and reappear
- Itchiness on rashes
- Pain and swelling in joints
The symptoms vary in intensity from person to person: some children may experience only mild versions of the symptoms, while others may have more severe symptoms. Around 20% of children and adults do not have symptoms.
Fifth disease is a contagious disease, but the contagiousness of the sick person does not last long. The diseased person is contagious for around a week before the rashes erupt on the skin. When the rashes appear fully, the person is supposed to have gone past the contagious stage. However, those with anaemias or who have their immune system compromised may remain contagious for a while longer.
Diagnosis of Fifth Disease
The disease is easily diagnosed with the help of the symptoms. If need be, though, a specific blood test can be done. Immunity is developed in half of the adults who get affected by the virus parvovirus B19.
Treatment for Fifth Disease
No particular treatment exists uptil now. The disease will subside on its own in some time after infection. Those who are healthy will recover soon enough. Medication can be taken to be relieved of the symptoms like itching, swelling and joint pain.
Complications due to Fifth Disease
It has been shown that pregnant women who get infected may have an increased risk of miscarriage or spontaneous abortion. Other study results have shown an association between infection with the fifth disease virus and arthritis in adults. Those who had red blood cell disorders like sickle cell anaemis may develop severe anaemia, if infected, and this will then need treatment.