Avoiding fifth disease

My mom was exposed to fifth disease when the school at which she teaches had a breakout of this skin rash. Since I’m five months pregnant, should I stay away from my mom until we know if she has it? If I should, for how long?

There’s really no reason for you to stay away from your mom. Even if you did become infected with fifth disease, there’s little chance that your baby would, too.

Fifth disease, otherwise known as erythema infectiosum, is caused by parvovirus B19 infection. Two major signs of it are a very red rash on your cheeks that gives your face a “slapped cheek” appearance, and a lacy rash on your arms and legs, which intensifies with warmth and may first be noticed right after a bath.

In normal children and adults, fifth disease usually results in very mild symptoms. In people with chronic hemolytic anemias, such as sickle-cell disease, it can lead to severe anemia. And it can sometimes result in arthritis in adults.

Still, if you become infected during the first half of your pregnancy, there is less than a 10 percent chance that your fetus will also become infected and develop severe anemia. The risk to your fetus is even slimmer during the second half of your gestation, which is the stage you’re in now.

The incubation period for fifth disease is usually four to 14 days, although it may be as long as 20 days. Although a blood test for a parvovirus antibody – or immunity agent – does exist, it’s not widely available. Parvovirus B19 is spread through your blood or secretions from your nose and throat. Good hand-washing and hygiene is probably effective in reducing its spread. It’s also important for people to dispose of tissues properly, wash their hands after blowing or wiping noses (their own or anyone else’s) and before preparing or serving food. Remember, too, that you shouldn’t share eating utensils, drinking glasses or soft drink cans.

About half of all American adults have already been infected with fifth disease, which makes them immune from further disease. Your mother may be one such adult, since teachers and day-care providers who work closely with young children are at greater risk of infection. You may be immune, too: If you have school-age children yourself, you’re more likely to acquire the infection from them than from another adult. Also, parvovirus may circulate epidemically in communities where large numbers of children and adults may become infected. They may then expose to you to the virus if you come into contact with their respiratory secretions at home, church or school.

Because you’re in the fifth month of your pregnancy, the risk to your fetus is very small, even if you become infected. Also, it’s unknown whether your mother actually is infected or whether either of you already has developed an antibody to parvovirus. In addition to this, people with fifth disease are most infectious before they develop the characteristic rash, and are unlikely to be contagious afterwards. Therefore, there is no need to stay home once you’ve had the obvious rash of EI.

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