Slapped cheek syndrome

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

How to 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
  • headache

After one to three days, a bright red rash usually appears on both cheeks. Adults don't always get the rash. 

After one to three days with a cheek rash, 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. It sometimes comes and goes for up to a month – especially if you're exercising, hot, anxious or stressed.

Adults might also have joint pain and stiffness. This can continue for many weeks, even after the other symptoms have gone.

Things you can do

You don't usually need to see a GP for slapped cheek syndrome. There are some things you can do to help ease symptoms while it clears up.

These include:

  • resting
  • drinking plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration – babies should continue their normal feeds
  • taking paracetamol or ibuprofen for a high temperature, headaches or joint pain
  • using moisturiser on itchy skin
  • speaking to a pharmacist if you have itchy skin – they can recommend the best antihistamine for children

Aspirin should never be given to children under the age of 16.

Tell your midwife or GP if you're pregnant or have a weakened immune system and have been near someone with slapped cheek syndrome.

When to see a GP

You should see your GP if you think you have slapped cheek syndrome and:

Contact your GP for an urgent appointment if you have:

  • 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. If your symptoms are severe and your GP isn’t available, contact GP out of hours service.

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. You can only spread the infection to other people before the rash appears.

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

To reduce the risk of spreading the virus:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible

You don't have to stay off work or school after the rash appears. You should let the school or teacher know if your child has slapped cheek syndrome.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

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