Slapped cheek syndrome (fifth disease) is common in children and should clear up on its own within 3 weeks. It’s rarer in adults but can be more serious.

Check if it’s slapped cheek syndrome

The first sign of slapped cheek syndrome is usually feeling unwell for a few days. Symptoms may include:

  • a high temperature of 38C or more
  • a runny nose and sore throat
  • headache

Things you can do yourself

You don’t usually need to see a GP for slapped cheek syndrome. There are some things you can do to ease symptoms while it clears up.

See a GP if you think you have slapped cheek syndrome and:

  • you’re pregnant – there’s a very small risk of miscarriage or other complications
  • you have a blood disorder – such as sickle cell anaemia or thalassaemia – there’s a risk of severe anaemia
  • you have a weakened immune system – for example, because of chemotherapy or diabetes

Ask for an urgent appointment if you have:

  • very pale skin
  • shortness of breath
  • extreme tiredness
  • fainting

These can be signs of severe anaemia and you might be sent to hospital for a blood transfusion.

How slapped cheek syndrome is spread

It’s hard to avoid spreading slapped cheek syndrome because most people don’t know they have it until they get the rash. You can only it spread to other people before the rash appears.

Slapped cheek syndrome is caused by a virus (parvovirus B19). The virus spreads to other people, surfaces or objects by coughing or sneezing near them.

To reduce the risk of spreading the virus:

  • wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • use tissues to trap germs when you cough or sneeze
  • bin used tissues as quickly as possible