Slapped Cheek Disease

What is Slapped Cheek Disease?
Slapped Cheek is a very common childhood particularly those aged between 3 and 15, although it can affect people of all ages. This illness is known as Slapped Cheek because one of the most common symptoms of it are bright red cheeks which look as if they have been slapped. Although a child can have Slapped Cheek at any time of the year, it is most common during the later winter months or Early Spring.

How can you get it?
Slapped Cheek disease is caused by a virus known as parvovirus B19 and therefore is easily spread through coughs and sneezes. The disease can also be transferred from touching items such as work surfaces or toys that were touched previously by an infected person.

It is very difficult to try and prevent this disease as people are most contagious before the rash appears.

When we are born, we do not have immunity to the parvovirus B19 which is why the disease mainly affects children. The most at risk of infection are those who attend nursery, playgroups and school although younger children and babies can also suffer as it is common for older children to pass the disease onto younger siblings.

However, the majority people who are affected by Slapped Cheek disease develop a lifelong immunity to parvovirus B19 and do not suffer from the disease again.

What are the symptoms?
It can take a couple of weeks after your child has been exposed to the parvovirus B19 before any symptoms start to show.  There are three stages of symptoms:

First stage – includes mild flu-like symptoms including:

  • A high temperature – usually between 38 and 38.5 degrees C
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • An upset stomach
  • Feeling more tired than usual
  • Having itchy skin

However, it is possible that your child is affected very mildly and you may not notice these symptoms. Your child is the most contagious during this first stage.

Second Stage – the second stage usually begins between three and seven days after the first stage symptoms began. During this stage, your child will get a bright red rash on both cheeks of the face.

Third stage – this stage usually begins between one and four days after the red rash on the cheeks appeared child may get a lace-like rash which can cover all areas of the body including, chest, back, thighs and arms. Some children may find the rash is uncomfortable and that it causes itching. The rash usually passes within five days but a very few children may still be affected after a few weeks.

It is possible for an adult to get the parvovirus B19 infection although they are usually affected in a different way and are likely to suffer from pain and stiffness in joints. The most commonly affected joints include:

  • Hands
  • Knees
  • Wrists
  • Ankles

Most adults find the infection may last for up to three weeks although a small number may find they suffer from stiffness for many months afterwards.

Some adults also get the red cheeks and red rash but very few suffer from the fever or sore throat symptoms.

How do I deal with Slapped Cheek disease?
This disease is caused a virus and therefore antibiotics will not help your child if they are suffering, there is no need to visit a doctor unless you are unsure if it is slapped cheek or not and would like a diagnosis. The symptoms should clear naturally in time. However if your child is suffering you can try the following to offer relief from the symptoms:

  • A paracetamol or ibuprofen based painkiller may help your child if they are suffering from a high temperature, aching joints or a headache.  Always follow instructions and age restrictions on all medicines.
  • Using moisturising cream to ease itchy skin
  • An antihistamine can be taken if the skin is itchy. Always follow the instructions and age guides.
  • Ensure your child gets plenty of rest
  • Ensure your child drinks plenty of fluids

When do I need to get medical advice?
There is not normally a need to seek medical advice unless your child’s temperature is higher than 39°c of if there symptoms worsen.However, people in the following groups should inform their doctor or seek help as quickly as possible if they come into contact with Slapped Cheek disease:

  • Pregnant women
  • People who suffer from chronic anaemia
  • People with a weakened immune system – HIV, Leukaemia
  • People on chemotherapy or steroid medication
  • People who have recently received or given a transplant

What do I do if I am pregnant and come into contact with Slapped Cheek Disease?
Most people have had Slapped Cheek disease during their childhood (although it may have been un-diagnosed) and therefore you are likely to be immune to it and your baby will come to no harm. However, if you have come into contact with someone who has the disease, you should seek medical advice immediately. Your doctor can do a simple blood test which will tell you whether or not you have already had the disease and are therefore immune to it.

If you are not immune to the disease, there is a very small risk of miscarriage if you contract the disease before the 20th week of your pregnancy. There is also a small risk having slapped cheek between nine and twenty weeks of pregnancy that your baby could get a condition known as hydrops fetalis. This is rare but causes unusual amounts of fluid to build up as your baby develops its organs and tissues.  However, most women who get slapped cheek disease whilst pregnant go on to have perfectly healthy babies.

If you are concerned or worried, speak to your doctor or midwife for further advice.

by Jenny, mum to William and James

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