Q&A: My older child has fifth disease. Could this affect my pregnancy?
I’m in my second trimester of pregnancy and just learned that my preschooler has fifth disease. Do I need to be concerned about my unborn baby?
Fifth disease (erythema infectiosum) is a virus that is passed through the air via coughs or sneezes. There is no vaccine for this virus. Researchers believe that about 50 percent of adults have had fifth disease at some point in their lives. When children contract fifth disease, the symptoms include low-grade fever, headache, rash, sore throat, and reddened cheeks (giving the appearance of a “slapped cheek”).
Adults can sometimes develop flu-like symptoms, too. After being exposed to the virus, it usually takes anywhere between four and 14 days for symptoms to appear.
If you are pregnant and have had the disease previously, you will be immune. The problem is most women just don’t know if they’ve ever had fifth disease. If a woman contracts this virus during pregnancy, it can pose health risks to the developing fetus. The virus can affect red blood cell production in the developing baby, leading to anemia.
The biggest danger lies especially in the first half of pregnancy (up to 20 weeks). In a 2005 study published in the journal Clinics in Perinatology, it was reported that about one in 400 women in the United States contract fifth disease during pregnancy. But contracting this disease doesn’t always mean your baby will become infected.
Be sure to tell your OB if your child contracts fifth disease, and your doctor may order blood work to see if you have contracted the virus as well. Your doctor may also order frequent ultrasounds or more in-depth testing to make sure your baby is not experiencing any problems.
To help prevent the spread of virus in your home, be careful to follow good hand-washing techniques and teach your child to cover her mouth when coughing and nose while sneezing.