The fifth disease (erythema infectiosum)

It’s not always easy to identify a virus when your child’s symptoms don’t match the description you can find on the internet or in books… Here’s my recent experience with the fifth disease, which may help you identify your child’s disease.

My little boy started showing signs of a rash all over his body last Saturday. I immediately begun to look after all his symptoms in order to identify the disease. There’s no fever, he’s in his usual shape, playing normally, no itch, no nose running, only small red spots all over his body. Except in the palms of his hands, under his feet and on the forehead. At first the spots were pink, they then turned redder on the Sunday.

Here’s a common description of the symptoms of the fifth disease: a great amount of the symptoms of the fifth disease (fever, rash, coughing, running nose) are also common to diseases caused by other viruses. About one fourth of all the persons who contract the fifth disease do not present any symptoms.

Here are the symptoms which are different from the other diseases and which are most frequent:

  • about 3 weeks after being exposed to the virus, a red rash may appear on the face, giving the impression that the child was slapped.
  • a red rush can appear on the arms, then can spread to the chest, the back and the thighs. It can disappear and then reappear or worsen when the person is exposed to heat, in a hot bath or in the sun for example. The rash can last several weeks.

In our case, I didn’t notice any “slapped cheeks” symptoms. he had red spots all over his body, almost simultaneously: buttock, penis, arms, legs, hands, feet, back and face.  The red spots appeared 4 days ago and they haven’t disappeared yet, however some of them are changing into small black spots. I never saw my child scratching, so obviously the rash is not itchy. 

He had fever, but mostly at night, and never before the rash appeared. He had fever on Saturday evening, a little on Sunday and on Monday evening.

This morning we went to the doctor’s who confirmed the diagnostic erythema infectiosum and since he’d had fever during the night, I kept the little one at home today.

After I had read descriptions of the fourth, fifth and sixth diseases on the internet, before seeing the doctor, I couldn’t manage to decide which disease my boy was suffering from since his symptoms were never quite matching those described. in fact, everybody is unique and develops unique symptoms, which makes it difficult when you’re a parent and not a doctor to give the right diagnosis. One should never take for granted the information given as “universal truth”.


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