Fifth Disease and Pregnancy
Exposure to fifth disease during pregnancy may cause worry to some women. Here are the facts that you need to know about this common illness when you are pregnant.
What is It?
Fifth disease is a virus caused by the parvovirus B19. Although it can affect any one of any age, children under the age of 15 are most often infected with it. (Read more about fifth disease of children.) Symptoms of fifth disease usually start off as a mild cold. However, a few days after the cold goes away, a rash develops on the face that looks as though a person’s cheeks have been slapped. This rash then spreads to the rest of the body before clearing up within one to three weeks.
Fifth Disease in Pregnant Women
Generally, most pregnant women experience no serious complications if they are exposed to the parvovirus B19. In fact, about half of all women are already immune to the virus (although they may not know it) due to a previous exposure. Those women who do get sick usually experience only mild symptoms with no ill effects on their baby.
For some women, though, parvovirus B19 can lead to severe anemia in the baby and may even cause a miscarriage. The risk of this happening is higher for those women in the early stages of pregnancy. However, this occurs in less than 5% of pregnant women who have been exposed to fifths disease. There is no evidence to support the idea that the virus can lead to birth defects or mental retardation in a child.
I’ve Been Exposed, Now What?
If you suspect or know you’ve been exposed to the virus, contact your health care provider. She can perform a blood test to see whether or not the parvovirus is present in your blood system. If the virus is present, your health care provider may decide to monitor you more closely.
There is no vaccine or preventive medicine available for fifth disease. In fact, there is very little you can do to avoid being infected with the virus other than washing your hands frequently. Since people are contagious before they develop the characteristic rash of fifth disease, it is difficult to evade exposure. However, if you know that there is an outbreak in your work place, you may choose to steer clear until the outbreak has died down. This is entirely a personal choice, though.
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