By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Slapped cheek syndrome is a viral infection that mainly affects children, although it can affect individuals of any age.
Cause of Slapped Cheek Syndrome
Slapped cheek syndrome, also known of as fifth disease and erythema infectiosum, is a viral infection caused by parvovirus B19. The virus interferes with the development of red blood cells in the bone marrow by targeting erythroid progenitor cells located there. The body's immune response to the virus and not the virus itself causes the characteristic red rash observed across the cheeks of infected individuals.
Transmission of Parvovirus B19
The parvovirus B19 is an airborne virus spread in much the same way as the common cold or flu virus. When an infected individual coughs or sneezes, the virus is expelled into the air, suspended within tiny droplets of saliva. These droplets may then be inhaled by a healthy person and infect them.
The virus may also be transmitted on touching surfaces that have come into contact with the infected saliva droplets or on sharing infected handkerchiefs or tissues.
The parvovirus B19 is highly contagious and easily spread between individuals, especially those living in close quarters such as at school or in a day care centre living. Children may also pass the virus onto their siblings on arriving home fom school. The most contagious period is three to seven days before the appearance of the distinctive red rash across the cheeks.
Immunity to Parvovirus B19
Once an individual has been infected with the virus, immunity to it is acquired and it is rare for a second infection to occur. Adults who work with children including teachers and care providers are at risk of being infected if they have not had the virus previously.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, Bsc
Last Updated: Sep 24, 2013