Slapped Cheek is a viral infection caused by the parvovirus B19. It mostly affects children, although anyone can get it. It is sometimes also known as the fifth disease.
The disease is thought to be very common. Most people do not realise that they have contracted the virus because it often causes very mild symptoms that are similar to a cold, or in fact no symptoms at all.
An approximate 50-80 % of adults have been infected by the parvovirus 19, according to estimations. And once you are infected, your body will develop life-long immunity against further infection.
In children, slapped cheek syndrome is most commons between the ages of 3 and 15, affecting boy and girls equally. Most cases develop during the late winter months or early spring. Cases of the condition usually follow a cyclical pattern with an upsurge in cases occurring every 4-7 years.
What are the causes?
Parvovirus B19 is spread like a cold. When an infected person coughs, sneezes, or laughs, they release tiny droplets of contaminated saliva, which can be breathed in by another person.
It can also be passed on through hand-to-hand contact. For example, if an infected person coughs or sneezes on their hand and then touches someone else’s hand, that person may then catch the virus if they then touch their mouth or nose.
This is why contamination is most likely to occur in schools and nurseries, where children often come in close contact with each other.
What are the symptoms?
Most of the symptoms of a parvovirus B19 infection are not caused by the virus itself but by the immune system releasing antibodies to kill the virus. These symptoms usually develop 13 to 18 days after the infection and consist of three distinct stages:
First stage – this is characterised by the common cold symptoms such as a rising temperature, sore throat, headache, upset stomach and fatigue, but is also sometimes accompanied by itchy skin. At this stage, the child is most contagious.
Second stage – 3 to 7 days after the initial symptoms appear, the child begins to develop a red rash on both cheeks. This may be most visible in the sunlight.
Third stage – a couple of days after the appearance of the rash, it begins to spread to the child’s chest, arms, thighs and stomach and feel itchy and uncomfortable. By this is stage he or she is no longer contagious.
How is it treated?
There is no vaccination against slapped cheek syndrome, but the illness is usually mild and passes without any need for treatment. Home remedies such as painkillers, moisturiser for the skin and drinking plenty of water can ease the discomfort of the symptoms.
Complications may develop if the sufferer has a pre-existing condition, such as a blood disorder or weakened immune system or is pregnant. In these cases, it is advisable to seek professional medical advice.
Images: Wikipedia and Fifthdisease.org