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Slapped cheek syndrome

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Slapped cheek
Worried your child might have slapped cheek syndrome? Find out what it is, how to spot the signs, and more importantly, how to treat it.

What is slapped cheek syndrome?

Slapped cheek syndrome, or slapped cheek disease, is a virus that commonly affects children between the ages of four to 12 and can also be known as fifth disease or parvovirus B19. Despite usually being picked up by young children it can occur at any age and it's estimated that six in 10 adults will have been infected. Generally slapped cheek syndrome is not an infection to be very worried about - the majority of people who get the virus don't even know they've had it. It clears up without leaving any complications.

How is it spread?

Slapped cheek syndrome is spread in the air when we cough, laugh and sneeze, or by salivia and in-the-air droplets when we are in close contact. That's why when children get it (and it's mostly children that get it between the ages four and twelve) it can spread very rapidly throughout a classroom or school.

The virus is called parvovirus B19 - this is similar to the parvovirus that affects cats and dogs, but it cannot be spread from human to animal or vice versa.

What are the slapped cheek symptoms?

The symptoms to look for with slapped cheek syndrome are generally those you get with a common cold; so sneezing, runny nose, sore throat, a bit of a headache and maybe a bit of a fever. The characteristic of this infection, however, is the slapped cheek rash. This is the slapped cheek appearance, the blotchy red rash that may go on one cheek or both cheeks and generally will remain there but it could spread to the rest of the body. It may go to the front, the back, the arms, the legs, the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet.

Generally it's not painful but it might be a little bit irritating for some people. Unlike the worrying rash of meningitis if you press this rash of slapped cheek, it will fade.

Around one in four cases of slapped cheek syndrome show no symptoms at all, so it can sometimes be hard to spot.

Slapped cheek syndrome symptoms:
  • Mild fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Sore throat
  • A red rash on the face. The slapped cheek rash is usually not painful and when it does appear, your child is no longer contagious.


Slapped cheek syndrome treatment

You should treat slapped cheek syndrome as you would any type of viral infection: plenty of rest, plenty of fluids and for sore throat/high temperature, children's paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease flu-like symptoms. If you're not sure check with your pharmacist or doctor.

The rash usually disappears within days, although in some cases it can take up to three weeks to fade completely. The actual infection will be in your body for between four to 20 days before the rash shows up.

Slapped cheek during pregnancy

Pregnant women are the biggest concern when it comes to slapped cheek syndrome, so if you get the infection in pregnancy and you've not had it before, it can - especially in the early part of pregnancy - increase the risk of miscarriage. However, most pregnant women who get infected have healthy babies.

You should see your doctor if you think you have been infected with parvovirus B19 - a blood test can then check for antibodies and if you're in early pregnancy, you will be monitored by ultrasound.

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If you're not sure if you or your child has slapped cheek syndrome or another infection then it's always best to seek medical advice.

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