The symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome and how to treat it

Just rosy, or a case of Slapped Cheek?

by Emily Fedorowycz |

Rosy cheeks are adorable but if your little one is unusually red all of a sudden they may have 'Slapped Cheek', in the form of a rash.

What is Slapped Cheek Syndrome?

Slapped Cheek (also known as fifth disease or erythema infectiosum) is so-called because of the distinctive bright red rash that appears on the cheeks. It is a mild infection that looks much worse than it is. Also, rather like chicken pox, you'll be relieved to know that once you've had it once, you're usually immune to it for life.

Read more: Baby skin trouble? How to spot common conditions

Symptoms of Slapped Cheek

Some babies will not get any symptoms at all in this first stage. So early on, it is highly contagious and can easily be passed on. Dr Sarah Temple, The Essential Parent Company's expert GP, says that 'in around 20-30% of cases, symptoms are so mild they’re barely noticeable.'

But the initial symptoms include:

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1) Flu-like symptoms

Is Slapped Cheek contagious?

Slapped Cheek is caused by an airborne virus (parvovirus B19) spread through coughs and sneezes and, as people are most contagious before symptoms begin, it’s very difficult to avoid and can be passed from baby to baby. Most cases develop in the late winter/early spring.

What are the risks of Slapped Cheek during pregnancy?

If you happen to get Slapped Cheek yourself and you're pregnant, there is usually no reason to panic, but there are some possible complications. Most women will have healthy babies, but if you get Slapped Cheek within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, there is an increased risk of miscarriage. If you become infected during weeks 9 to 20 of your pregnancy, there is a small risk that the baby could develop foetal hydrops. This is more serious, as a build-up of fluid develops in the baby's body, causing possible anaemia or heart failure. It is possible for the baby to recover from, but the condition can be fatal.

There is no evidence that having Slapped Cheek syndrome during pregnancy causes birth defects or developmental problems later in childhood.

After a period of 7 to 10 days, a rash appears. The rash occurs in 3 distinct stages, Dr Temple explains.

The stages of Slapped Cheek: 

  • Stage 1: 'In the first stage, children develop a bright red rash on both cheeks that usually fades over two to four days.

  • Stage 2: One to four days after the facial rash appears, a light pink, raised rash that’s a bit itchy, spreads out on the chest, arms, stomach and thighs. By now your little one is probably uncomfortable but no longer contagious.

  • Stage 3: In some cases, there’s a third stage when the rash fades but reappears over a period of weeks. Re-appearances are often triggered if your child is hot, anxious or has just exercised.’

Treatment of Slapped Cheek syndrome

'Paracetamol or ibuprofen will help with fever and pain while antihistamines reduce the itchiness. A gentle moisturiser might also soothe irritation,’ says Dr Temple.

Otherwise, rest and drink plenty of fluids, as babies should continue their normal feeds. The infection should clear up very soon.

Do I need to see a GP?

If your baby has Slapped Cheek, in most cases, it will be a mild infection that clears up on its own. If you are worried, you should speak to your GP – especially if your child has any known blood abnormalities (such as sickle cell anaemia) or is immunosuppressed.

If you are pregnant and catch Slapped Cheek Syndrome, consult your midwife or GP to prevent further complications from arising.

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