Health conditions

Slapped cheek syndrome (Parvovirus)

What is slapped cheek syndrome?

Parvovirus B19, also known as slapped cheek syndrome, is a common childhood viral infection which produces a bright red rash on the cheeks ('slapped' cheeks). It is caused by infection with the parvovirus B19 virus.

For most people, this is no worse than a common cold.

In rare cases, this infection in a pregnant woman can cause severe anaemia in her unborn baby. This occurs in less than 5 per cent of all pregnant women who are infected with parvovirus B19 and usually occurs during the first half of pregnancy. There is no evidence that parvovirus B19 infection causes birth defects.

Parvovirus B19 only infects humans and cannot be transmitted to or from animals.

How common is it?

About 60 per cent of people have had slapped cheek syndrome by the age of 30. Most infections occur in children between 5 and 15. People who have had slapped cheek syndrome once are usually then immune to it for life.

How do you get slapped cheek syndrome?

The virus is spread by close contact with an infectious person, or from mother to unborn baby.

Signs and symptoms

The first symptoms usually appear 5 to 7 days after exposure to an infectious person. The rash appears after 14 to 21 days. Once the rash starts, people are no longer infectious.

Symptoms start with:

  • fever
  • tiredness
  • runny nose
  • joint pains.

This is followed by a bright red rash on the cheeks ('slapped' cheeks) and a generalised 'lacy' rash on the body that spreads down the arms and legs. The rash lasts 7 to 10 days and is sometimes itchy. Sometimes the rash comes and goes.

Adults may have no symptoms at all, or may develop a rash, joint pains or swelling, or both. The joint symptoms usually only last a week or two, but can last longer.

How do I know if I have it?

See your doctor if you suspect you or your child has slapped cheek syndrome.

Treatment of slapped cheek syndrome

Most people with slapped cheek syndrome need little if any treatment. Rest and painkillers may help. Speak to your doctor or chemist before giving any painkillers to your child. Aspirin is not recommended for children under 12.

If you are pregnant and get the infection, your baby’s development will need to be monitored. Talk to your doctor about this.

How can slapped cheek syndrome be prevented?

Because people are only infectious before the rash starts, it is difficult to identify infectious persons based on the cold-like symptoms alone.

Is there a vaccination against slapped cheek syndrome? 

There is no vaccine or medicine for slapped cheek syndrome.

Where to get help

  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222

Remember

  • Slapped cheek syndrome is a common illness in young children.
  • Before the rash appears, the symptoms are similar to a common cold.
  • There is some risk to the unborn baby if a pregnant woman becomes infected.
  • Good hand washing practice will minimise transmission.

Acknowledgements
Public Health

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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