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Slap Cheek
(Erythema Infectiosum)

by Tash Hughes of Word Constructions

Erythema Infectiosum is a common, mild viral disease caused by Parvovirus B19. It is most commonly called “slap cheek” in Australia and “Fifth Disease” in the USA.

The disease is most common in 5 to 14 year olds, but all age groups are susceptible to the virus. About half the adult population has had slap cheek, but not all are aware of it because it is not always diagnosed and 20% of infected people are symptom free anyway.

 What is it like?

 The main symptom of the disease is the development of a red rash on the cheeks, which looks as if the patient has been slapped. It can resemble scarlet fever, rubella and allergic reactions.

 4 – 14 days after exposure to the virus, some non-specific symptoms usually arise; symptoms may include fever, headache, fatigue, runny nose, tummy ache, sore throat and joint pain.

 During these symptoms, the patient is contagious and will spread the virus to others. This phase lasts for 2 – 3 days usually.

 It is about a week later that the rash develops and thus it often isn’t linked to the earlier symptoms. The rash is bright red and not contagious. In adults, the rash is less likely but there will be joint pain and swelling.

Slowly, the rash will become less intense and spread to the trunk and limbs. It becomes a bit blotchy and forms patterns across the body. By about a week, the main rash will have gone but it may recur on and off for another week to month, especially when the child is hot.

How is it caught and avoided?

Slap cheek is caused by Parvovirus B19 and is spread by respiratory droplets. That is, the virus moves in the air after someone sneezes or coughs and can be breathed in. It can also be spread by saliva so the sharing of utensils, toys in mouths and kissing should also be avoided.

There is no vaccine or treatment for slap cheek; nature must take its course. Immunosuppressed patients may have immune enhancing treatments if required.

To contain the spread of slap cheek, good hygiene and avoiding patients are necessary. Washing hands and carefully disposing of used tissues and the like are important precautions.

 Children with slap cheek are not required to be excluded from school. By the time slap cheek has been identified, the child is no longer contagious.

Are there are complications with slap cheek?

Although it is more unpleasant for adults, there is no real concern about people with slap cheek. The joint pain in adults usually lasts 1 – 2 weeks, but it can linger for months.

Anaemia can result from people with sickle cell anaemia, AIDS, chemotherapy treatments, steroid medications and other immune weaknesses; these people may also remain infectious for months.

Most unborn babies will be unaffected by their Mother having slap cheek and there is no proof that having slap cheek whilst pregnant will cause any birth defects. 

However, if an unborn baby manages to get slap cheek, there is a problem. The infection results in the production of red blood cells being interrupted in the baby. Thus, the foetus is likely to develop anaemia and heart failure, and faces the risk of up to 9% of death (miscarriage or still birth.) Only 2 – 3% of infected pregnant women have an infected foetus.

 It is a contagious disease, but not highly so. A recent study in Denmark showed that only 13% of susceptible, pregnant women actually caught slap cheek, and about half of all women are already immune anyway.

Any pregnant woman who is exposed to slap cheek and unsure of her immunity to it will have a blood test. This test will determine if the woman is immune and whether or not she has picked up the virus. Unfortunately, there is no cure for slap cheek so the woman will be monitored until the risk has passed.


Tash Hughes is the owner of Word Constructions and is available to solve all your business writing problems! From letters to policies, newsletters to web content, Word Constructions writes all business documents to your style and satisfaction.


This article is available for free use on your web site or in your newsletter.

It must be acknowledged as written by Tash Hughes of www.wordconstructions.com.au and copyright remains the property of Tash Hughes.

Please notify us of your use of this article or to request information on commissioned articles.

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