In this article
- My baby’s cheeks are suddenly bright red. Why is this?
- What are the symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome?
- Should I call the doctor?
- How can I treat slapped cheek syndrome?
- Can slapped cheek syndrome cause any complications?
- Can I catch slapped cheek syndrome from my baby?
- I’m pregnant. Is my unborn baby at risk if I catch it?
My baby’s cheeks are suddenly bright red. Why is this?Your baby could have slapped cheek syndrome, a common childhood illness. It’s caused by a virus called parvovirus B19, and gets its name from the bright red rash that appears on the cheeks. The long name for slapped cheek syndrome is erythema infectiosum.
It’s also known as fifth disease because it’s the fifth rash in a group of five red-rash diseases that also includes:
What are the symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome?It takes between four days and 14 days for symptoms to appear once your baby’s been infected (NHS 2011a, Zellman 2012). Slapped cheek syndrome usually starts with a fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as a sore throat, a headache and feeling tired (NHS 2011a, Zellman 2012).
Three days to seven days after these flu-like symptoms set in, your baby’s cheeks will turn red and look as if they’ve actually been slapped. A red, lacy rash may appear on your baby’s body and limbs a few days later. The rash may make your baby feel itchy and uncomfortable (NHS 2011a).
However, some babies won’t have all of the symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome. Your baby may feel fine and just have the red rash on his cheeks. Or he may be a bit off-colour and not have the rash at all, so you may not even realise he has slapped cheek syndrome (HPA nd, Newson 2010).
The rash can sometimes reappear over several weeks if your baby has been in the sun or become hot, perhaps after having a bath or being active. If this happens to your baby, it doesn’t mean the infection has come back (Zellman 2012).
Should I call the doctor?Slapped cheek syndrome is a mild illness in babies and children. It’s a virus, so it just needs to run its course until your baby’s better (NHS 2011a). However, you may want to take your baby to the doctor to confirm that it’s slapped cheek syndrome.
Your doctor can also give you some advice about treating your baby at home. Sometimes, the rash on your baby’s face and body can linger for up to a month. But this doesn’t mean your baby still has the illness (NHS 2011a).
If your baby’s fever reaches 38 degrees C or higher if he is under three months or 39 degrees C or higher if he is under six months, see your doctor (NICE 2007: 5). You should also see your doctor if his fever lasts longer than a few days. Your baby may have a different infection.
How can I treat slapped cheek syndrome?Your baby’s slapped cheek syndrome will go away on its own. But there are a few things you can do to ease your baby’s discomfort if he’s not feeling well:
- Make sure your baby gets plenty of rest.
- Encourage him to take extra breast or formula feeds (NHS 2011a, NICE 2007: 8). If your baby is formula-fed or on solids he can have extra water, too. This will keep him hydrated and bring down his fever, if he has one.
- Infant paracetamol or infant ibuprofen can also help bring down your baby’s fever. Your baby can have infant paracetamol from two months if he was born after 37 weeks and weighs more than 4kg (9lb) (MHRA 2011). Or you can give your baby infant ibuprofen if he is three months or older, and weighs at least 5kg (11lb) (NHS 2011a). Check the dosage information on the packet, or ask your doctor or pharmacist if you’re unsure about how much to give your baby.
Once your baby has the rash, it’s no longer contagious. If he is feeling better, it’s fine for him to return to nursery (NHS 2011a, Newson 2010, Zellman 2012).
Can slapped cheek syndrome cause any complications?For most babies, slapped cheek syndrome is a mild illness. But it can be more serious for babies with sickle cell disease or thalassaemia (NHS 2011a, Newson 2010).
These disorders cause babies to have low levels of red blood cells (anaemia). Slapped cheek syndrome can make these types of anaemia suddenly worse. So call your doctor if your baby has one of these disorders, and you think he has slapped cheek syndrome.
Can I catch slapped cheek syndrome from my baby?If you’ve had slapped cheek syndrome before, it’s unlikely that you’ll catch it from your baby. About 60 per cent of adults become immune to slapped cheek syndrome and other infections caused by parvovirus B19 (HPA nd).
If you do catch it, you may develop stiff and painful joints in your hands, feet, knees and ankles. This joint pain can recur for a few months afterwards. You may also get the red rash on your cheeks and body, or flu-like symptoms, or both. Or you may not have any symptoms at all and so you won’t realise you have it.
I’m pregnant. Is my unborn baby at risk if I catch it?The chances are that you had slapped cheek syndrome in childhood. This means you’re probably immune to it. However, to be on the safe side, see you doctor straight away if you’ve been in contact with someone with slapped cheek syndrome. Your doctor can give you a blood test that will show if you have it now, or if you’ve had it in the past (NHS 2011b).
Most pregnant women who have slapped cheek syndrome have healthy babies. However, there’s a small risk of miscarriage if you have it during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (NHS 2011b, Newman 2010, Zellman 2012). Very rarely, slapped cheek syndrome can also cause a condition called hydrops fetalis if you have it between nine weeks and 20 weeks of pregnancy. Hydrops fetalis is when an unusual amount of fluid builds up in a developing baby’s tissues and organs (NHS 2011b).
Read more about slapped cheek syndrome during pregnancy. Also find out about other infections to watch out for when you’re pregnant.
Last reviewed: May 2013
HPA. Nd. General information on parvovirus. Health Protection Agency. hpa.org.uk [Accessed March 2013]
MHRA. 2011. Paracetamol: updated dosing for children to be introduced. Drug safety update. Medicines and Healthcare Products Regularity Agency. mhra.gov.uk [accessed September 2014]
Newson, L. 2010. Slapped cheek disease. Patient UK. patient.co.uk [Accessed March 2013]
NHS. 2011a. Slapped cheek syndrome. NHS Choices. nhs.uk [Accessed March 2013]
NHS. 2011b. What are the risks of slapped cheek syndrome during pregnancy?. NHS Choices, Medical Advice. nhs.uk [Accessed March 2013]
NICE. 2007. Fever in children younger than 5 years. National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence. nice.org.uk [pdf file, accessed March 2013]
Zellman GL. 2012. Erythema infectiosum (Fifth Disease). eMedicine. emedicine.medscape.com [Accessed March 2013]