If you’re pregnant and have been exposed to the virus, you should see your GP, midwife or call NHS 111.
What is slapped cheek syndrome?
Slapped cheek syndrome, also known as fifth disease, is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19. The main symptom is a blotchy red rash on your face. Other symptoms can include a headache, mild fever and sore throat.
However, in about 20-30% of infections, there are no symptoms.
Slapped cheek syndrome usually affects children. It’s thought that once you’ve been infected, you’re immune for the rest of your life. Studies have shown that 60% of adults in the UK have antibodies to parvovirus B19.
It’s difficult to avoid contact with people who have slapped cheek syndrome, because they may have no symptoms. Once the rash appears, the person is no longer contagious.
Complications during pregnancy
If you get slapped cheek syndrome during your first 20 weeks of pregnancy, there’s an increased risk of miscarriage.
If you become infected during weeks 9 to 20 of your pregnancy, there’s also a small risk that the baby will develop foetal hydrops. This is a serious condition, where a build-up of fluid develops in the baby’s body, causing complications such as heart failure and anaemia. Some babies can recover from foetal hydrops; however, the condition can be fatal.
There’s no evidence that having slapped cheek syndrome during pregnancy causes birth defects or development problems later in childhood.
When to get advice
See your GP or midwife as soon as possible if you’re pregnant and you think you’ve come into contact with slapped cheek syndrome. You should do this whether you develop a rash or not. There’s no routine screening test for slapped cheek syndrome in pregnancy.
Your GP will do a blood test. If you test positive for the virus in your first 20 weeks of pregnancy, you will be offered ultrasound scans throughout your pregnancy to monitor your baby. If your baby develops foetal hydrops, they may need a blood transfusion while still in the womb.
Read more about pregnancy and infections.