"Hey doc...I'm pretty mad...my kid came home today looking like somebody has been slapping his face! They tell me not to worry...but I'm telling them they better confess up! Someone is not telling the truth!" "Ok, ok Mr. W...just calm down. Just what was the explanation for this whole thing?"
There is a childhood illness called Erythema infectiosum or Fifth Disease. It is also known by the more common slang name of "slapped cheek syndrome". Yes...amazingly...it does almost exactly resemble someone who has been slapped across the face. So it is no surprise that Mr. W thought the worst of his child's situation.
Fifth disease is primarily an illness of children aged 5 to 15 years old--although it can affect other age groups but with different manifestations. It is caused by the erythrovirus and is easily spread by secretions from the respiratory tract or contaminated blood.
Usually, the time between actual infection and the first signs of the disease is about anywhere from 4 days to 21 days. The unfortunate part is that children who are infected are most contagious before any signs of the illness show up. This is one of the main reasons why schools can become victims to epidemics if left unchecked. Interestingly, once a person already has the rash, they are much less infectious.
What does it look like? In children, it literally looks like they have been slapped on the cheeks. Their cheeks have a bright red rash that can sometimes also cross the bridge of the nose. As the illness progresses, the rash may spread to the torso, arms, and legs. It may or may not be itchy and can last from a few days to several weeks. If adults or teens are affected, it is more likely to be manifested as a generalized joint arthritis instead of a rash.
The disease is usually self limited and resolves on its own. However, there are some medical conditions that can make certain people more likely to run into problems. Certain blood diseases like sickle-cell disease or some forms of anemia can become a serious medical problem if a person is infected. Women who are in their first trimester of pregnancy are especially at risk if they contract the illness as it can damage the fetus and cause spontaneous abortions.
Slapped cheek syndrome can often resemble other more serious childhood illnesses--so, as always, be sure to seek the advice of your personal physician.
So until next time.....Stay Healthy Hawaii!