Fifth disease

Last updated: June 14, 2023

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Erythema infectiosum (fifth disease) is one of the clinical syndromes caused by human parvovirus B19 infection. The virus is transmitted by respiratory droplets and primarily affects children between the ages of five and fifteen. Erythema infectiosum begins with a mild febrile illness followed two to five days later by a maculopapular rash that is especially noticeable on the cheeks (i.e., "slapped‑cheek" rash) and may be pruritic. Once the rash has appeared, the infected individual is no longer contagious and usually feels well again. Erythema infectiosum is self‑limited, and the rash usually resolves within seven to ten days, but may be recurrent over several weeks. Whereas adult infection is characterized much more by arthritic symptoms and less by a rash, parvovirus B19 infection also manifests with joint symptoms in a minority of children. There is no specific vaccine or treatment for parvovirus B19 infection, though symptomatic treatment for arthralgias or pruritus can be used. Previous parvovirus B19 infection results in lifelong immunity against the virus. Because of its ability to infect erythrocyte progenitor cells, parvovirus B19 can cause transient anemia in infected patients, as well as complications such as a transient aplastic crisis in patients with chronic hemolytic diseases (e.g., sickle cell disease), and chronic pure red cell aplasia in the immunocompromised. Infection with parvovirus B19 (one of the TORCH congenital infections) during pregnancy may also have serious consequences for the fetus.

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Peak incidence: 5–15 years [1]
  • Prevalence of seropositivity
    • ∼ 10% in preschool children
    • ∼ 70% in adults

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Etiologytoggle arrow icon


Route of transmission

  • Main route: aerosol
  • Other routes
    • Hematogenous transmission
    • Transplacental transmission: In seronegative pregnant women, transmission to the unborn fetus may occur (in up to 30% of cases).


Pathophysiologytoggle arrow icon

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

Disease course

Clinical symptoms

  • Mild cold‑like symptoms
  • Exanthem: 2–5 days following the onset of cold‑like symptoms
    • Initial diffuse redness of the face with perioral sparing (slapped‑cheek rash)
    • Spread of exanthem to the extremities and trunk
      • Initially confluent and maculopapular; adopts a lace‑like, reticular appearance over time as it clears.
      • Associated with mild pruritus (in ∼ 50% of cases)
      • Fades after ∼ 7–10 days; can be recurrent over several weeks (becoming more pronounced after exposure to sunlight or heat)
    • Third phase with rash that varies with exposure to sun or heat and resolves spontaneously after several weeks.

Parvovirus B19-associated arthritis

  • Epidemiology: affects < 10% of children and up to 60% of adults ( > ) infected with parvovirus B19
  • Clinical findings
    • Arthralgia with symmetrical, nondestructive polyarthritis, particularly in small joints (fingers, hand, ankle) and knee
    • Usually resolves after 3–4 weeks
  • Complications: In some cases, persistent arthritis may develop (see “Complications” below).


Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

The diagnostic approach for parvovirus B19 infection varies by patient group. However, all groups may be affected by transient normocytic anemia with a low reticulocyte count because of the ability of the virus to infect erythrocyte progenitor cells.

Immunocompetent children

Immunocompetent adults

Patients with transient aplastic crisis and immunocompromised patients

Pregnant women


Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

Complicationstoggle arrow icon


We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

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  14. Parvovirus B19 and Fifth Disease - About Parvovirus B19. Updated: November 2, 2015. Accessed: March 19, 2017.
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