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Fifth Disease


Fifth disease (sometimes referred to by the numeral as in 5th disease) is a viral infection that occurs most frequently in children.  The main purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of fifth disease including its causes, signs and symptoms and treatment information.  It should be noted that this article should be considered to be only a starting point for a complete understanding of fifth disease and that an individual who wishes to understand fifth disease should seek as many reputable sources as they possible can in order to become fully informed about this childhood disease.  As always, should you be seeking immediate medical advice or need or has a family member that needs medical attention for fifth disease or any other disease or disorder, it is recommended that you contact a trained, certified and professional heath care professional such as your family physician.  From there they will be able to give you the complete information on such a disease as fifth disease or any other disease or disorder and will be able to give a comprehensive diagnosis including the relevant treatment information for the treatment of fifth disease.


What mostly characterizes the presence of a fifth disease viral infection is simply a rash that is described by the Centers for Disease Control as a “slapped-cheek race” on the face and a somewhat lacy type rash on the main body and the limbs, and in some cases this rash may also be itchy in nature.  In addition, fifth disease infections may also include amongst their symptoms the presence of a fever, a general sickness or cold like symptoms prior to the rash.  In general, a fifth disease infection is not particularly significant and does not often result in very severe symptoms.  In most cases the symptoms dissipate within two weeks and the child, as it is usually a childhood infection, will be back to normal and have achieved some degree of immunity to the virus that causes fifth disease.


The virus that causes fifth disease is known as parovirus B19.  There are a number of different types or strains of parovirus and not all of them infect human beings.  In fact, one’s pets including cats or dogs may have a parovirus infection and indeed, can also be immunized to parovirus.  However, it is important to note that the different forms of parovirus that effect animals and adults are not the same and are not communicable between humans and animals.  As such, there is no chance of a child contracting parovirus from a pet, nor is there a chance of a pet contracting parovirus from an infected child.  The reason that the focus of this article and fifth disease is on its infection of children is that in most adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control approximately 50% of adults, have already achieved an immunity to fifth disease as a result of a prior infection with fifth disease being fought off by the body resulting in the accompanying immunity.  However, for those adults who have not in the past been exposed to fifth disease or have not otherwise developed immunity to parovirus B19, there is the possibility that they can become infected.  In adults who become infected with parovirus B19, the symptoms can be worse, although fifth disease is still not a particularly serious illness.  Adults who have contracted fifth disease will note a level of joint pain and or potentially swelling that as in the case of childhood fifth disease should resolve itself within two weeks, although in some cases adults who have contracted fifth disease may be symptomatic for many months.


How is Fifth Disease Contracted?


Although, as previously mentioned, fifth disease is not communicable between human beings and animals, it is contagious between people.  The contagious period of the disease is during the presence of the cold like symptoms but prior to the characteristic rash.  Once a rash is present in the infected individual, in all likelihood, they are no longer contagious and as such should be allowed to interact with individuals again.  The presence of the main symptoms indicating a lack of contagion should not be considered a rule of thumb in deciding if other diseases are contagious.  If you are seeking information on other diseases or are unsure if the disease in question is in fact fifth disease, it is important that a proper diagnosis from a qualified health care professional such as a family physician be obtained in order to ensure that others are not infected.


How is Fifth Disease Treated?


Although not all individuals who contract fifth disease require medical attention and should resolve itself within the aforementioned timeframes, it can, on occasion, become a more serious illness, particularly in individuals who are suffering from sickle-cell disease or other forms of anemia.  Parovirus B19, which causes fifth disease, can, in these cases, worsen the conditions of the anemia and rarely achieves its characteristics symptomatic rash.  These anemic symptoms may also occur in individuals with compromised immune systems that may result from a serious illness such as cancer or disease more commonly associated with a deficiency in the immune system such as HIV/AIDS.  Should you have any of these disorders and suspect that you have become infected with parovirus B19 and as such have fifth disease, it is strongly recommended that you consult a health care professional such as your family physician in order to ensure that you receive the appropriate medical treatment for this and any other conditions you may be suffering from.


In some cases, such as adult infections of parovirus B19 resulting if fifth disease there may be treatments needed to address the symptomatic results of this disease such as joint pain and or swelling.  In most cases any further form of treatment is unnecessary.  Due to the contagious nature of the disease and the relatively late stage at which it becomes characteristically symptomatic, it can be difficult to prevent.  Fortunately, this is not an overly serious disease for most individuals and as such the contraction of and resulting immunity to fifth disease is something that can occur to a number of individuals each year without in fact knowing that they have ever been infected with parovirus B19.