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What Slapped Cheek Syndrome looks like

What is Slapped Cheek Syndrome?

by gemmamelling

This alarming sounding viral infection seems to be doing the rounds lately – but don’t worry, it’s not as scary as the name sounds.

Here’s what the NHS has to say about Slapped Cheek Syndrome….

What is Slapped Cheek Syndrome?

Slapped cheek syndrome, also known as fifth disease or parvovirus B19, is a viral infection that’s most common in children, although it can affect people of any age. It usually causes a bright red rash on the cheeks.

Although the rash can look alarming, slapped cheek syndrome is normally a mild infection that clears up by itself in one to three weeks. Once you’ve had the infection, you’re usually immune to it for life.

What are the symptoms of Slapped Cheek Syndrome?

Symptoms of Slapped Cheek Syndrome usually develop 4-14 days after becoming infected, but sometimes not 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 38C (100.4F)
  • a runny nose 
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • an upset stomach
  • feeling generally unwell

The infection is most contagious during this initial period.

In adults, these symptoms are often accompanied by joint pain and stiffness, which may continue for several weeks or even months after the other symptoms have passed.

After a few days, a distinctive bright red rash on both cheeks (the so-called “slapped cheeks”) normally appears, although 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, although 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.

Should I be concerned?

You don’t usually need to see your GP if you think you or your child has slapped cheek syndrome, as the condition normally gets better on its own.

However, you should contact your GP, call NHS 111 or contact your local out-of-hours service if you have been exposed to anyone with slapped cheek or you have symptoms of the infection and:

  • you’re pregnant 
  • you have a blood disorder or a weakened immune system
  • you have symptoms of severe anaemia, such as very pale skin, severe shortness of breath, extreme tiredness or fainting

How can I help my child if they have Slapped Cheek Syndrome?

If you or your child is feeling unwell, you can try the following to ease the symptoms:

  • rest and drink plenty of fluids – babies should continue their normal feeds
  • for a fever, headaches or joint pain, you can take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – children under 16 shouldn’t take aspirin
  • to reduce itchiness, you can take antihistamines or use an emollient (moisturising lotion) – some antihistamines are not suitable for young children, so check with your pharmacist first

Unless you or your child is feeling unwell, there’s no need to stay away from school or work once the rash has developed, as the infection is no longer contagious by this point.

It’s a good idea to notify your child’s school about the infection, so children who develop early symptoms can be spotted quickly and vulnerable people can be made aware that they may need to get medical advice.

Find out more

Read the advice in full on the NHS website.

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