Locations:
Search IconSearch

When Your Child’s ‘Chapped Cheeks’ May Actually Be a Common Childhood Infection

Understanding Fifth disease

Little girl with chapped cheeks - fifth disease

A rash has blossomed on your baby’s face. Of course, you’re concerned. You wonder if it hurts. Will it spread? What does it mean?

Advertisement

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Fifth disease, or erythema infectiosum, is a viral infection that can cause a rash on the face and body. It’s sometimes also called “slapped face syndrome.” It can also affect other parts of the body, including the upper arms, torso and legs, appearing as a more spread out red, lacy rash.

Pediatrician Kimberly Churbock, MD, says it’s common for babies and younger kids to bring home this infection from daycare or preschool ― and it’s usually not cause for alarm. Here, she explains what you need to know about fifth disease:

Q: How can I tell if my child might have Fifth’s disease?

A: Keep an eye out for mild aches, fatigue, cold-like symptoms and sometimes a low-grade fever, which go away days before the rash appears. The rash may itch, but most children with Fifth disease aren’t as uncomfortable as their parents may assume by the look of it!

Parents often mistaken Fifth disease for chapped cheeks or another common viral/bacterial culprit in rashes: measles, scarlet fever, rubella, Duke’s disease (now considered one and the same as scarlet fever) or roseola. (Fun fact: Fifth disease was so named because it was the fifth of these six rash-producing infections to be identified.)

Rashes related to eczema, poison ivy and hand-foot-mouth disease can also be confused with Fifth disease.

Your child’s pediatrician can usually diagnose Fifth disease by simply looking at the rash.

Q: How do children catch Fifth’s disease?

A: A virus called parvovirus B19 causes Fifth disease. It’s spread through saliva and mucus when little ones cough, sneeze, share drinking cups, put toys in their mouth or touch each other’s hands and faces.

Q: When is my child contagious?

A: Once the rash appears, they typically aren’t contagious anymore. (Of course, this makes it all the harder to manage spreading Fifth’s disease in a school or other group setting.)

In kids with healthy immune systems, the virus usually goes away on its own within two weeks.

Q: How do you soothe those cheeks?

A: Try using an oral or topical antihistamine to help relieve the itch and keep the rash from getting more angry-looking from your child’s scratching. If they have some fever or achiness, including headache, acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help them feel better.

Advertisement

Q: Is there any way to protect my child from Fifth’s disease?

A: Unlike measles and rubella, there’s no vaccination for Fifth disease yet. Keeping your child home during a known outbreak at daycare or school might keep your child from contracting it, but preventing it otherwise is difficult. Many kids are exposed to Fifth disease and other infections and develop immunity without ever having symptoms of the disease itself.

Q: Who should be especially careful around someone with Fifth disease?

A: While most people experience only mild symptoms, children or adults with compromised immune systems or blood disorders, or women who are pregnant, should take extra care to avoid being around someone with Fifth disease. And they should see their doctor if they believe they have been exposed.

Older children and adults with Fifth disease may experience more joint stiffness than younger children, but this goes away within weeks.

Advertisement

Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Rainbow-colored heart hovering above healthcare provider's hand, with child sitting in exam chair
June 12, 2024/Parenting
How To Find an LGBTQIA-Friendly Pediatrician for Your Child

Local LGBT centers, online directories, visual cues and gender-affirming care or non-discrimination policies can all be helpful resources and cues

Child in pjs sleeping in bed moving legs
May 22, 2024/Children's Health
How To Help Children With Restless Legs Syndrome

Regular exercise, an iron-rich diet, adequate sleep and bedtime routines that include a warm bath or massage may help with your kid’s RLS

Baby sleeping on their side
May 17, 2024/Children's Health
What To Know About Baby’s Fontanelles (aka Soft Spots)

A sunken soft spot may be a sign of dehydration, while a bulging soft spot may be a sign of head trauma

Young child in bed reading at night
May 2, 2024/Children's Health
Nighty-Night: Tips To Get Your Kid To Stay In Bed

A consistent, structured routine, which may include incentives, can help children learn to stay in bed and get the ZZZs they need

Two caregivers, with one holding a child on shoulders, walking happily outside
May 1, 2024/Parenting
Our Safe and Responsible Guide To Co-Parenting

Keeping open lines of communication and working together as a team for your children are key to co-parenting

Kids running a race at the finish line ribbon
April 30, 2024/Children's Health
Is Your Child Old Enough To Run a 5K?

Let your little one’s enthusiasm and motivation fuel their interest in running, but don’t pile on miles too early

Toddler sitting on caregiver's lap receiving throat swab from healthcare provider
April 29, 2024/Children's Health
Recurrent Strep Throat: What To Do When Strep Comes Back

Change your toothbrush after an infection and always take your full course of antibiotics to help ward off recurrence

Caregiver leaning over happy baby
April 25, 2024/Children's Health
What Are Baby Wake Windows? And How Long Should They Be?

Knowing how much time your baby should typically go between naps can help keep them on a more regular schedule

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims

Ad