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You Could Catch Fifth Disease

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Guest blogger Meanest Mom caught a highly contagious and rapidly spreading viral illness so dangerous that it threatened her unborn baby.


On the last day of preschool, my son came home with flushed cheeks and a rash on his torso and legs. I would have chalked these symptoms up to seasonal allergies, if not for an article on Fifth disease that I had read on momlogic a few days before. A common and highly contagious childhood illness, Fifth disease is a viral illness that has infiltrated preschools and day-care facilities across America. While the illness has no lasting effects in healthy adults and children, it can cause serious complications for pregnant women.

As fate would have it, I was 18 weeks pregnant when my son was diagnosed with Fifth disease. Although I didn't have any symptoms of the illness, like rash, fever, or joint pain, my obstetrician ordered a blood test, just to be safe. A few days later, I learned that I had not only contracted the virus, but had also passed it onto my unborn baby.

Fifth disease in pregnancy is largely treatable, if detected. Weekly ultrasounds can check for the development of hydrops -- a life-threatening form of fluid build-up. In severe cases such as mine, intrauterine blood transfusions have been proven effective in reducing the chances of fetal demise.

While my story represents a small minority of Fifth disease cases, what it so alarming is how close I came to potential disaster. If you are pregnant, it may be worth considering adding Fifth disease to the list of illnesses for which you are screened during pregnancy ... just in case.

We were shocked by this, so we asked momlogic contributor pediatrician Dr. Cara Natterson about Fifth disease. She eased our fears letting us know this story is very uncommon. She says, "Fifth disease is a common illness among young children. When they get it, they may have some mild symptoms (fever, malaise) and the characteristic rash ("slapped cheeks"), but generally it is considered benign for this age group. However, the virus which causes Fifth disease is known to have potentially dangerous effects on a growing fetus. While this is very rare, a fetus can develop an illness called hydrops, which causes anemia (destruction of red blood cells) and edema (retention of fluid). Fifth disease is so common that it is essentially unavoidable during pregnancy. But if a school sends home a notice that it is going around, a pregnant woman should generally avoid exposure. And good common sense hygiene measures (like regular hand washing) may reduce the risk of transmission."

What do you know about Fifth disease?

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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous July 26, 2008, 8:40 AM

I work in a daycare and when I was 10 1/2 weeks pregnant with my daughter we had an outbreak of fifth disease (which my doctor said is also known as parvovirus) and I ended up testing positive for it. It was weekly ultrasounds and tests but luckily it didn’t become as severe as in the story above.

In my case, however, the doctors seemed almost as unsure about what to do as I was. It would have been nice to of had a support group of any kind to go to and be able to talk with other families about the good and bad instead of always trying to educate everyone who asked “Another ultrasound, why?”

Now when we have breakouts which seem to happen all the time, I sit down with our expecting mommy.

Sheri July 26, 2008, 8:02 PM

I too was exposed when I was in my first trimester, and over a weekend no less.
The waiting was awful and it was before the Internet, so I was limited in what I could find out while I waited.
I tested positive on Monday, but was assured it was because I had it or was exposed to it before the pregnancy.
Most people have been exposed to it, unknown before hand, thankfully.

BethP January 6, 2009, 10:13 PM

I too was exposed to Fifth’s Disease in the 20th month of a pregnancy, through my pre-school son (there was an out-break at the nursery school). As per above - - I had no previous immunity, contracted the virus and it was brutally painful for close to three weeks. Unlike the scenario above though,the virus did not pass to my unborn child, so no intervention was necessary. But, we only were sure of that via weekly fetal sonograms. Any pregnant woman who knows that she has been exposed - - should be tested asap - - for existing immunity or for having contracted the virus - - . If the latter, fetal monitoring is the best course so that early intervention can occur to save the pregnancy.

plieeezzzzzzz March 2, 2009, 8:14 PM

this is not helpful for the question i asked

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