Red Rashes on Arms Legs and Cheeks in Kids – Can Fifth Disease Cause Miscarriage in Women?

Red Rashes on Arms Legs and Cheeks in Kids – Can Fifth Disease Cause Miscarriage in Women?

Is your baby suddenly showing up bright red cheeks or rashes on the arms and legs? The little one might be suffering from a common childhood illness known as fifth disease. It can also affect adults especially the pregnant woman causing life threatening complications. Let’s dig into the topic and know how it affects babies and pregnant women differently.

Fifth disease

Fifth disease or erythema infectiosum refers to a viral disease that leads to rashes on the cheeks, arms and legs. Due to the characteristics and initial appearance in the children it is also called as ‘slapped-cheek syndrome’.

Is fifth disease a common condition?

Fifth disease is a common childhood illness and mild in nature. The illness typically affects children aged 5-15 years. However, it can be more serious for the pregnant woman or anyone who has weak immune system. Studies show that about 50 percent of adults in India are immune to this viral infection.

Is it contagious?

Slapped cheek syndrome is highly contagious a week before the appearance of rash. Once the rash start showing up, the affected person is no longer considered as contagious and need not be isolated. The person with the illness can resume his or her normal activities after the rashes shows up.

Causes of fifth disease

The illness is caused by parvovirus B19 virus hence, it is also sometimes called as parvovirus infection. This is an airborne virus which can spread through respiratory secretions or saliva of the affected person. The virus is most common is early summer, spring and winter. But there is no definite timeframe, the virus can spread at any time of the year among individuals of any age.

It can cause serious complications in people with compromised immune system including those with HIV infection, currently undergoing cancer treatment and anti-rejection drugs which are used after transplants of organs.

Fifth disease and pregnancy

Most of the adults have antibodies which act as a shield against fifth disease due to previous exposure in childhood. But when someone gets this illness as an adult, the symptoms can be serious, especially the pregnant women. The fifth disease affecting the pregnant women and causing complications have been well documented.

If a woman gets this condition during pregnancy, it can pose serious risks to the unborn baby who can experience anemia. This can lead to miscarriage, but this is not common as it happens about 5 percent of all the cases of parvovirus B19 infection during pregnancy. Generally, fifth disease strikes during the first half of the pregnancy.

Signs and symptoms of fifth disease

Most of the people with this infection are asymptomatic means they would not show any signs or symptoms. As per American Academy of Family Physicians, symptoms start appearing 4-10 days after coming in contract with the virus. However, if the symptoms appear, it will vary from person to person.

Symptoms in children

In children, early symptoms may include:

  • Headache
  • Fever
  • Running nose
  • Upset stomach
  • Nausea
  • Sore throat

After the few days of the onset of early symptoms, unique bright red rash may appear on the cheeks, typically on both sides. It may eventually extend to the arms, thighs and legs where it may turn into pink and slightly raised up. The rashes can last about 7-10 days. There might be some itchiness, especially on the soles.

Symptoms in adults

When it comes to signs in adults, they won’t develop any rash. But the virus infection may create soreness in their joints which can lasts from few days to weeks. The affected joints may be of wrists, hands, knees and ankles.

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Diagnosis of fifth disease

The doctors can diagnose the condition by simply looking at the symptoms, the most visible being the rash. In people who are at risk of getting this virus or who have compromised immune system, the doctor may order blood test to determine the infection.

If you are pregnant and believe that this disease might have affected you, consulting with the doctor and getting the test done would be wise. If confirmed, the doctor might suggest you ultrasound on the next visit to check the condition of amniotic fluid, placenta as well as presence of extra fluid in the body.

Does fifth disease need treatment?

As mentioned, about 50 percent of adults are immune to this illness and most of the people out of the remaining 50 percent don’t show any signs and symptoms. And those people who shows signs and symptoms, self-treatment at home is sufficient enough to counter the disease.

However, the doctor may advise:

  1. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) in case of headache
  2. Drinking a lot of fluids
  3. Getting rest
  4. In rare cases where an affected person’s immune system is weak, the doctor may give antibodies (immunoglobulin shots) to treat the infection
  5. People with severe cases of anemia might need blood transfusions in the hospital

After the rashes appear, children can go to school as they no longer remain contagious.

What is the outlook for people with fifth disease?

The slapped-cheek syndrome or fifth disease does not affect healthy people for a longer time. But the individuals with weak immune system such as those who are HIV infected, undergoing chemotherapy treatment or other conditions, will need doctor’s care.

Also, people who have certain type of anemia such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia might also need extra care. The reason behind close medical attention for anemic people is that fifth disease can halt the production of red blood cells (RBCs) resulting in decreased amount of oxygen in the body.

It is certainly a dangerous condition for pregnant women, if they come in contact with the virus. Though it occurs rarely, but still they need to be cautious as it may affect the health of the child. There is no vaccine or any other way to prevent fifth disease. However, once a person is exposed to virus, he or she gets lifelong immunity.


1. Slapped cheek syndrome. read more
2. Prengnacy and fith disease. read more
3. Fifth disease. (2015). read more
4. Infections: Fifth disease. (2017). read more