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Fifth disease is a mild but contagious, viral disease of children that causes a very characteristic facial rash. The formal name for the disease is erythema infectiosum, which means "infectious rednees". The name fifth disease was applied to the condition because it was the fifth pink-red infectious rash of childhood to be described, the others being scarlet fever, measles, rubella — often called German measles — and roseola. Although people of any age may contract fifth disease, children attending elementary school are the major group at risk. The virus causing this condition, human parvovirus B19, is spread by exposure to airborne droplets exhaled by an infected person. The disease is seen mainly in the spring months, and often occurs as an outbreak in a geographically limited region. More than half of the children who are exposed to fifth disease will contract the illness. After an incubation period ranging from four days to two weeks, an infected child usually has a fever of less than 38° C, may feel slightly ill or tired, and develops the most characteristic sign of fifth disease: bright red or rosy rash on both cheeks, making them look as if they have been slapped. In fact, the infection has been called "slapped cheeks disease". The rash does not itch, and may extend to the upper arms, thighs and buttocks, where it is more pink than bright red and has a lacy or netlike appearance. Children usually are no longer ill after five to ten days, but the rash often recurs a number of times over a period of several weeks. It seems to be triggered by exposure to direct sunlight, exercising or emotional stress. The child may continue in school or day care at this stage because once the rash appears, there is no longer any risk of giving the disease to others. The only treatment for the patient during the acute illness phase is bed rest. Drinking plenty of fluids is also important.

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