Slapped cheek syndrome (also called fifth disease or parvovirus B19) is a viral infection. It’s most common in children but it can affect people of any age. It usually causes a bright red rash on the cheeks.
Slapped cheek syndrome is normally a mild infection that clears up by itself in 1 to 3 weeks. Once you’ve had the infection, you’re usually immune to it for life.
However, slapped cheek syndrome can be more serious for some people. If you’re pregnant, have a blood disorder or a weakened immune system and have been exposed to the virus, you should get medical advice.
Symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome
Symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome usually develop 4 to 14 days after becoming infected. Sometimes, symptoms may not appear for up to 21 days.
Some people with slapped cheek syndrome won’t notice any early symptoms, but most people will have the following symptoms for a few days:
a slightly high temperature (fever) of around 38°C (100.4°F)
The infection is most contagious during this initial period.
Adults may also feel joint pain and stiffness. This may continue for several weeks or even months after the other symptoms have passed.
Slapped cheek rash
After a few days, a distinctive bright red rash on both cheeks (‘slapped cheeks’) normally appears. Adults may not get this.
By the time this rash develops, the condition is no longer contagious.
After another few days, a light pink rash may also appear on the chest, stomach, arms and thighs. This often has a raised, lace-like appearance and may be itchy.
The rashes will normally fade within a week or two. Occasionally, the body rash may come and go for a few weeks after the infection has passed. This can be triggered by exercise, heat, anxiety or stress.
When to get medical advice
You don’t usually need to see your GP if you think you or your child has slapped cheek syndrome as it normally gets better on its own.
Speak to your GP practice if:
You’ve been exposed to anyone with slapped cheek syndrome or you have symptoms of the infection and:
you’re pregnant – there’s a very small risk of miscarriage or other complications