Serious complications of fifth disease
Fifth disease is rarely a serious health problem for children and adults who are otherwise healthy. However, the virus can cause serious health complications in some people — especially those with weakened immune systems caused by leukemia, cancer, organ transplants, or HIV infection.
Children with sickle cell anemia are also at risk for complications from fifth disease. If a child with sickle cell gets a fever or seems especially pale, their doctor should be notified ASAP. In cases of serious anemias, hospitalization and blood transfusions may be needed.
Because the virus that causes fifth disease can be spread through blood or blood products, a pregnant woman who is infected with parvovirus B19 may transmit the virus to her unborn baby. The fetus can develop heart failure related to low blood counts caused by the virus, and this can be fatal.
If you’ve ever had fifth disease, you should be immune to the virus in the future. However, your doctor can order a blood test to determine for sure if you are susceptible or immune to parvovirus B19 infection or if you were recently infected. This is not a routine test, but it can be helpful for pregnant women who may have been exposed to parvovirus B19 and are suspected to have fifth disease, the CDC explains.
How to prevent fifth disease
While there’s no vaccine or drug to prevent parvovirus B19 infection, the CDC recommends these measures to reduce your chance of catching fifth disease or infecting others:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water.
- Always cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Keep your hands away from your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- If you are sick, stay home from work; sick children should be kept out school, too.
People with fifth disease are most contagious when there are experiencing symptoms similar to a cold — before the rash or any joint pain develops. After you get the rash you are not likely to be contagious, so then it is usually safe for you or your child to go return to work or school and not have to worry about infecting other people.
February 27, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN