The sneaky virus that is slapped cheek syndrome
If you’ve got a school aged child, something you may have heard of is “Slapped Cheek Syndrome”. Don’t worry, there’s no violence involved – just a virus.
Slapped Cheek gets its name from the most obvious symptom of infection – a bright red rash which appears on the cheeks, giving them the appearance of being slapped, hence its name. You might also hear it called “Fifth Disease”, or its scientific name Parvovirus B19. Don’t worry, just because you see Parvovirus, it doesn’t mean your child has caught it from a dog. There are lots of varieties of the Parvovirus, and each of them only affects one species. Parvovirus B19 only affects humans, and can’t be caught from, or given to, a dog.
In most cases, it actually looks a lot worse than it is, but as with many viral infections, you only need to contract it once to be immune for life, as your body learns how to fight it off after the initial infection. In a few very rare instances, slapped cheek syndrome can be more serious. Pregnant women, those with compromised immune systems or blood disorders should speak to their GPs if they think they’ve been exposed.
Slapped cheek is a sneaky virus. You won’t know you’ve been infected until the symptoms appear, by which time the contagious period is over, and everyone around you has potentially been exposed. It’s really easy to catch, in the same way as coughs and colds, with infected droplets being transferred from person to person through sneezing and coughing. Unintentionally inhaling these droplets, or touching a contaminated surface, takes the virus into the body. The signs to look out for are low level problems which you might just dismiss, so keep an eye out for them in conjunction with each other.
In children, you’ll find a very slightly raised temperature of about 38C, which is only 1 or 2 degrees higher than usual. There will also be common cold type symptoms – runny nose, headache and sore throat. In some cases there will be an upset tummy as well. Adults infected with slapped cheek can also find their joints are sore and painful, and these symptoms can last much longer in adult infections.
When the rash on the cheeks develops, the infectious period is over. You may also find smaller patches of bumpy rashes developing on the trunk of the body, which will be itchy. You can moisturise these with an emollient lotion, or give antihistamines such as Piriton for this, but if in doubt, check with your pharmacist. If the patient is in pain, try a paracetamol suspension such as Calpol.
With the rash appearing, the infection is gone, and it’s quite safe to return your child to school if they feel well enough. Do let their school know that your child has had slapped cheek though, as they may want to take precautions to warn other parents and staff who might be affected.
You should find that in spite of the scary looking rash, all symptoms of slapped cheek will disappear in about a week, and life can return to normal again, safe in the knowledge that lifetime immunity is now in place for most, however a small number of people can get a reoccurring problem which would need to be checked out by a GP.