Slapped cheek syndrome (also known as fifth disease) is common in children and should clear up on its own within 3 weeks. It’s rarer in adults but can be more serious.

Check if it’s slapped cheek syndrome
The first sign of slapped cheek syndrome is usually feeling unwell for a few days. Symptoms may include:

  • A high temperature of 38C or more
  • A runny nose and sore throat
  • A headache

After one to three days, a bright red rash appears on both cheeks. After one to three days, a light-pink body rash may appear. The skin is raised and can be itchy.

How long it lasts
The cheek rash normally fades within two weeks. The body rash also fades within two weeks but sometimes comes and goes for up to a month – especially if your child is exercising, hot, anxious or stressed.

Things you can do to help your child
They don’t usually need to see a GP for slapped cheek syndrome, but there are some things you can do to ease symptoms while it clears up:

Do

  • Ensure your child gets plenty of rest
  • Ensure they drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration – babies should continue their normal feeds
  • Give them paracetamol or ibuprofen for a high temperature, headaches or joint pain
  • Use moisturiser if they have itchy skin
  • Speak to a pharmacist who can recommend the best antihistamine for children

Don’t

  • Give aspirin to children under 16

See a GP if you think your child has slapped cheek syndrome and:

  • They have a blood disorder, such as sickle cell anaemia or thalassaemia, as there’s a risk of severe anaemia
  • Your child has a weakened immune system, for example, because of chemotherapy or diabetes

Ask for an urgent appointment if your child has:

  • Very pale skin
  • Shortness of breath
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Fainting

These can be signs of severe anaemia and you might be sent to hospital for a blood transfusion.

How slapped cheek syndrome is spread
It’s hard to avoid spreading slapped cheek syndrome because most people don’t know they have it until they get the rash, and it can spread to other people before the rash appears.

Slapped cheek syndrome is caused by a virus (parvovirus B19). The virus spreads to other people, surfaces or objects by coughing or sneezing near them.

To reduce the risk of spreading the virus:

  • Wash hands often with warm water and soap
  • Use tissues to trap germs when coughing or sneezing
  • Bin used tissues as quickly as possible

Children don’t have to stay off school or nursery after the rash appears. Let the staff in the setting know if your child has slapped cheek syndrome.

Visit the NHS website to find out how you can protect your family from slapped cheek syndrome.