Have you heard of Fifth’s Disease? It sounds scary, doesn’t it?! Throw “disease” into any sentence, and it has an uncanny way of stirring up immense fear, especially when it’s your child’s pediatrician, diagnosing your sweet angel with it! That’s exactly what happened to us last month.
It started after dance class one day, when I noticed Bella had what looked like a heat rash on her legs and arms. She had just spent several hours dancing in a warm studio with tights and a leotard on, I brushed it off pretty quickly. The next day, however, it looked worse and covered even more of her skin. She said it was mildly itchy, but had no other aches or pains or any signs of illness at all. I decided to keep an eye on it, but wasn’t worried it would be anything at all.
The next morning, she complained of an upset tummy, and her rash looked angry. I kept her home from school and made a pediatrician’s appointment. I was expecting strep throat, as she has gotten the rash, fever and upset tummy before with no sign of sore throat but a positive strep test. The nurses at the office agreed with me and we had her diagnosed before the doctor ever came in. They did a rapid strep test just in case, but when the pediatrician came in, she seemed completely confident that she knew exactly what it was, and it wasn’t strep. Fifth’s Disease.
I tried not to look terrified, as she continued to explain that it is a super common virus with kids that is very mild and by the time the rash shows up, they are no longer contagious. She mentioned that it seemed to be going around a lot right now, but assured me it was no big deal. That didn’t keep me from Googling it the minute we got home, but it did in fact look pretty non scary.
Fifth’s Disease is a human parvo virus, not related to the parvo virus in dogs. It was the fifth illness related to fever and rashes in children, which is how it got it’s not so clever name. It is also known as slapped cheek disease, because a common symptom is the appearance of what looks like freshly slapped cheeks on children. There is no treatment, other than possible pain meds if the child isn’t feeling well, and as I said before, Bella never acted ill in any way, so it truly was a no big deal illness. For her.
Fast forward a few weeks. Fifth’s Disease can incubate and remain unnoticed for several weeks before any symptoms show up. It is at this time when you are contagious, but are not showing any symptoms, so you have no clue what is coming. Remember when I said Fifth’s Disease is easy peasy and no big deal for kids? Well, if you are an adult, it’s a whole other story.
Most people have had fifths at some point in their childhood and so their bodies build up immunity to further infection from it. It is not very common for adults to get it, but when they do, the symptoms are far more severe.
It started on a Saturday evening, when I starting feeling yucky. Kind of nauseated, slight headache, and I could not get warm. I did not sleep well at all that night, so when I felt fatigued and icky the next day, I attributed it to my poor night’s sleep. The next night, I went to bed shivering, absolutely freezing, despite being under multiple layers of blankets, and having a very warm puppy snuggled up next to me. I tossed and turned, I put on extra layers, a thick fuzzy robe, socks!! This, from a person that leaves her ceiling fan on 365 days a year! I was miserable, my muscles sore from the shivers! It wasn’t until I started feeling itchy, and noticed that lacy rash show up that I realized I had Fifth’s Disease.
Checking my temperature showed a fever of 102. I felt sore and achy all over, my joints screamed, I couldn’t stay warm, despite the nice weather and warm temperatures. Yes, Fifth’s Disease as an adult BLOWS!
Today, I am almost 2 weeks in and I still have such horrible joint pain, I can barely move in the morning. I’m suffering severe carpal tunnel symptoms from the swelling, and even had to start wearing braces on my wrists at night to attempt to lessen the intense pain I feel in the morning. It is frightening how badly it affects the joints! I have woken up completely unable to even close my hands, making a fist an impossible task. Taking NSAIDS helps, as does heat therapy, but my goodness, is it miserable! I haven’t been able to do any fancy hairstyles on Bella in the mornings for school, I can’t even make my hands work to manage a ponytail until the meds kick in and dull the pain.
I *think* I am slowly improving as the days go by, but in severe cases, the symptoms have been known to last months, years or even lead to permanent arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus, MS, the list goes on. I am hopeful that I am not a severe case, the pain has truly brought me to tears more than once. It’s scary, it really is.
So how can Fifth’s Disease be prevented? We are pretty diligent about hand washing here, and covering sneezes, keeping surfaces wiped down and disinfected. During the contagious stage of Fifth’s, there are no symptoms! Despite our diligence, it happened. There is no treatment, no cure, it just is. It’s a very common illness in children, and to repeat, Bella suffered no joint pain, no prolonged illness, and is 100% well to this day. Most people have had it as a child and don’t even know it, making them immune. For other, poor unfortunate souls, (yes, I am totally singing Ursula’s song in my head right now and I am not even sorry) you get it and you deal because there is nothing else that can be done. NSAIDS for pain, but other than that, grin and bear it.
My heartfelt condolences if you suffer through this as an adult.