Slapped cheek syndrome is a parvovirus infection, characterised by the red rash it creates on the cheeks of those infected.
Slapped cheek syndrome is most common in children and generally speaking, it is usually not dangerous and can be remedied at home. However, although cases are rare, there can be risks if a pregnant person is exposed to the infection.
If you are concerned that you could have been around someone with slapped cheek syndrome, try not to worry. Contact your doctor as soon as possible and go from there. In the meantime, we have got all the information below to make sure you are fully informed, and to hopefully put your mind at ease.
What Is Slapped Cheek Syndrome?
The medical name for this syndrome is Erythema infectiosum, and it is caused by the Parvovirus B19. Slapped cheek syndrome is an infection that mainly affects children, and it gets its name from the bright red rash that can appear on both cheeks. Early symptoms of the infection are very similar to that of a cold, so a sore throat, runny nose, headache, and even a high temperature are all common. The rash will usually appear on the cheeks a few days later, and can also spread to the chest, arms, and legs. On darker skin tones the rash can be harder to detect so if you are worried or you know it's been going around, it is worth calling your doctor to be sure.
Sometimes referred to as the 'fifth disease', slapped cheek syndrome used to be part of a group of five childhood diseases that all come up with a similar cheek rash. The other illnesses in this group are measles, rubella, Duke's disease, and scarlet fever.
This virus is contagious and can be spread from coughs and sneezes, and it also lives on surfaces. Usually, slapped cheek syndrome will go away on its own and can be managed with antihistamines and painkillers. As the rash can be itchy you can apply moisturiser to help ease the irritation and further medical treatment is not usually necessary.
Slapped cheek is a pretty sneaky infection because the rash is the clearest of the symptoms, but it will only develop when the illness is no longer contagious! So there is no medical need to keep your child away from school or nursery if they have the rash caused by slapped cheek syndrome.
Slapped Cheek: Pregnancy Risks
Slapped cheek syndrome is caused by a virus that most adults will have had at some point in childhood. If you have already had this infection in the past then you are very likely immune to it, so even if you are living with someone who is infected, your immunity will mean your baby is not at risk. If you have never had slapped cheek syndrome, however, and you get it while pregnant, it is really important that you seek medical attention as soon as you realise. Adults infected with slapped cheek generally won't get a rash on their cheeks but a rash on their chest, arms, and legs may develop.
Symptoms of slapped cheek in adults are very similar to those children get; cold and flu-like symptoms and sometimes aches and pains in the joints, although often with adults there are no symptoms at all, so if you think you might have come into contact with the virus you need to let your healthcare team know immediately. Your midwife or doctor will be able to check your immunity via a blood test. If you had a blood test at an earlier midwife appointment, some hospitals actually save the blood sample from this which means they can check your immunity even more quickly.
Unfortunately, there is no set way to avoid slapped cheek, if you hear of it going around children at your child's nursery or school then if possible see if perhaps someone else can pick them up or drop them off but otherwise, lots of handwashing and taking extra care is required.
The risk for pregnant women is highest when you are in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. The further along you are the more the risk decreases and babies near to full term are very unlikely to be affected by the virus. If you do test positive for slapped cheek you will be referred for an ultrasound and taken under the care of a specialist doctor who will be aware of any complications that could arise.
Prior to 20 weeks of pregnancy, there is an increased risk of miscarriage as a result of exposure to slapped cheek, but the risk is small. If you have any kind of blood disorder, a weakened immune system, or any other health concerns then it is also very important that you seek medical advice as soon as possible after potentially being infected.
Slapped cheek can cause other complications for pregnant women if it is caught between weeks nine and 20. It can cause extra fluid to build up in the developing tissues and organs of the fetus, this is called fetal hydrops. It is possible for fetal hydrops to be picked up on the ultrasound scans, which you should be getting regularly if diagnosed with slapped cheek syndrome at this point in your pregnancy. Sometimes, if there are signs of anaemia, the baby might need a blood transfusion while in the womb. Thankfully with the healthcare available to us today, these things are possible and most babies will make a full recovery. If you are nearing the end of your pregnancy, your doctor may wish to deliver the baby early in order for them to receive further treatment.
The is no evidence that slapped cheek during pregnancy will have any long-term effects on the health of your baby, or affect their development as they grow up. So, although it's easier said than done, try not to fret if you have been exposed to the virus, there is a really good chance that will already be immune to it, so just be aware of the symptoms, and contact your midwife as soon as possible.
If you found this article helpful, you might enjoy some of our other articles about pregnancy and all its up and downs, why not take a look at when to go to the hospital for labor or working while pregnant.
Freelance writer Amy lives in Hampshire with her 3 year old daughter, who is a super energetic, chatty child, leading to Amy’s interest in all matters to do with infant and child sleeping patterns and mindfulness for adults and children. Amy’s degree was in fashion design and she loves filling their beautiful home full of interesting textiles, tiles, art, ceramics, and houseplants or, alternatively, pining over them on Instagram. When they aren’t out exploring in the fresh air they can be found cosying up at home, painting, knitting, and dancing!