Local school sees Fifth disease cases

If your youngster develops red, rosy cheeks - don't assume that it's from playing and running around outside. The culprit could be Fifth disease.
Kyle Moroney
May 20, 2012


Officials at Peach Plains Elementary School in Grand Haven Township said they have seen a handful of students, mainly kindergartners, who have developed Fifth disease in recent weeks. Principal Kate Drake, however, did not have a specific number of students who have reportedly had the disease.

An e-mail was sent to parents of one kindergarten teacher, notifying them that there have been reported cases of Fifth disease in the classroom, and an informational flier from the Ottawa County Health Department was sent home in those students’ folders.

“There is no treatment necessary for this disease, but if your child has a fever we would advise you keep them at home,” wrote the school’s secretary, Cherie Reiss.

While other Grand Haven area schools have seen reported cases of Fifth disease in previous years or earlier this year, Peach Plains is the only school that currently has an outbreak of the virus, according to district Superintendent Keith Konarska.

Leah Duplissis, a special-education teacher at Peach Plains, said her 6-year-old daughter, Cady, showed “polka dots” on her legs in early May. It later erupted into a red rash on her arms, legs and feet.

“I would have not known about (Fifth disease) if it hadn’t been for the rash,” Duplissis said.

Her other daughter, Clare, later started showing signs of Fifth disease with a low-grade fever, severe tiredness. The 8-year-old also developed a minor rash that turned dark, then faded away to nothing, and then came back bright red, her mother said.

“It might look like it’s going away, but then it might come back just as brighter and bigger than ever,” said Duplissis.

Duplissis said she was also exposed to the virus when she was pregnant with Clare, and did not develop any complications from the exposure.

But before you panic, doctors say the “slapped cheek” viral disease should not overly concern parents or school officials.

“For the most part, it’s a benign disease and usually there aren’t serious consequences,” said Dr. Paul Heidel, medical director of the Ottawa County Health Department. “It’s just a childhood disease — unless there are children with compromising immunity or other underlying medical conditions.”

Dr. Karen Wiseman, a pediatrician for the Spectrum Health Medical Group at North Ottawa Community Hospital, said not all children who contract Fifth disease show symptoms of having the virus. Some, however, might show mild symptoms — such as a low-grade fever, headache, sore throat, cough, stomach issues, or muscle and joint pain.

Of those who have Fifth disease, only about 20-60 percent of them show these type of symptoms, while 30-40 percent do not show symptoms, according to Heidel.

Parents, however, might not even realize their child has Fifth disease until they develop a rosy, red rash on the face. This symptom, which generally develops two to five days after a child contracts the virus, is what gives Fifth disease it’s nickname: “slap cheek” rash — because it looks like the child was slapped across the face.

That’s when parents generally take notice that something is wrong, Wiseman said.

“But when the rash comes out, they’re no longer contagious,” she said. “Since it’s caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help.”

The cheeky rash will usually disappear after a few days, but can move throughout the rest of the body, producing more of a “lacy” pattern, lasting up to three weeks. Once the rash appears, the other symptoms will disappear.

Fifth disease is a cyclical virus, but is more prevalent in the late winter or spring, effecting elementary-age children, but it can affect older children and adults as well, health officials said.

The best prevention for virus infections is to follow good hygiene, hand washing and hand sanitizer — especially before eating or touching face and cover coughs.


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