Slapped Cheek Syndrome- key facts for parents & carers

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Slapped Cheek Syndrome is one of those slightly odd viruses that crops up in schools and childcare facilities from time to time- and it seems to be doing the rounds in the past few weeks. It is caused by a virus called Parvovirus B19 (you may have heard of dogs and cats being infected with Parvovirus, but it’s a different strain). Parents and carers often have quite a few questions, so here are some of the key points:

Symptoms and spread:

  • It mainly affects children aged 4-10 years old, though anyone can get it if they’ve not had it before.
  • Many people who are infected show no symptoms (i.e. it’s often a “silent” infection), and symptoms may vary quite a lot from child to child.
  • It’s spread by breathing in or swallowing coughed or sneezed fluid droplets from an infected person.
  • Symptoms can take between 4 and 14 days to appear after catching the virus.
  • First symptoms can include fever, tiredness, headache, stomach upsets, aches and pains, sore throat and a runny nose- this is when the virus can be spread to others, mainly through saliva, coughs and sneezes.
  • A bright red rash may appear on the cheeks 3 to 7 days after getting the virus- hence the name. Once this “slapped cheek” rash appears the child is no longer likely to be infectious to others. Though it may look a little alarming, these children can return to childcare or school, if they feel well enough.
  • Some children may also develop a rash on their bodies- this often forms a pink lacy pattern on the skin, and can come and go for several weeks. It may be mildly itchy.

Treatment:

  • Fever, aches and pains may be controlled with Paracetamol (Panadol) or Ibuprofen  (Nurofen).
  • Antibiotics do not help because Slapped Cheek Syndrome is caused by a virus. If there is itch, an antihistamine may be useful.
  • And as with any illness, if a child seems particularly unwell, they should be seen by a doctor.

Complications:

  • Complications are rare.Occasionally, joint swelling and pain may develop in the hands and feet. This is more common in teenagers or adults, and will usually pass within a few weeks.
  • If for some reason a child’s immune system is not functioning properly- for example, children on long term steroids, chemotherapy, or who have had an organ transplant- slapped cheek syndrome can be more serious. Equally, if a child has a blood disorder such as sickle cell anaemia or another severe anaemia ( a very low blood count), the infection can be more dangerous. Children with any of these issues who are exposed to slapped cheek syndrome, or who develop symptoms, should see a doctor immediately.

Infection in Pregnancy:

  • Pregnant women who are exposed to Slapped Cheek Syndrome should ask their doctor to check if they already have immunity to Parvovirus B19 by performing a blood test.
  • Thankfully, most pregnant women who are infected with Slapped Cheek Syndrome will be absolutely fine, as will their babies. However, infection in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy can cause an increased risk of miscarriage, and between weeks 9 and 20 weeks of pregnancy it can lead to foetal complications- thus it’s vital to seek medical advice and follow up.

 

For more information on Slapped Cheek Syndrome check out:

http://www.rch.org.au/kidsinfo/fact_sheets/slapped_cheek_or_fifth_syndrome/

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/slapped-cheek-disease

by Dr Aifric Boylan

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