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Slapped Cheek Syndrome

Slapped cheek syndrome is a mild, self-limiting condition that causes a distinctive redness in the cheeks. It mostly affects young children, but can affect anyone.

  1. Flu-like symptoms accompany the rash
  2. Caused by the parvovirus B19
  3. Treated with self-management techniques

While slapped cheek syndrome can present unpleasant symptoms, in children it will usually resolve itself within one to three weeks. However, it is more likely to cause longer lasting symptoms in adults. Therefore, if you are worried about slapped cheek syndrome, you may want to speak to a doctor online. Our online consultation enables you to book an appointment with a UK doctor at your own convenience.

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Description

What is slapped cheek syndrome?

Slapped cheek syndrome is a viral infection caused by the parvovirus B19. It produces a characteristic rash on the cheeks, and is often accompanied by a fever and flu-like symptoms. Some people may also develop another rash elsewhere on the body. The condition usually affects those between the ages of three and 15, but it can affect anyone. Adults who develop the condition are thought to be more prone to joint problems in the weeks following infection.

Incidences are more common throughout the winter into early spring. Most children develop an increasing level of parvovirus B19 pathogens by the age of 15 years old, by which point it is thought that half of adolescents have already developed immunity. Around 50-60% of people currently living in the UK will have had the condition at some point during their lives, but in most cases will have no awareness of it. 

How can slapped cheek syndrome be prevented?

Slapped cheek syndrome cannot be properly prevented, as there is no vaccine currently available. It is also difficult to stop because someone with the condition is most infectious in the period of time before symptoms are present, and this incubation period can take more than a week. Maintaining good hygiene is the only measure someone can take to prevent the spread of slapped cheek syndrome.

Symptoms tend to clear up on their own after a couple of weeks, and complications are rare. The only common complaint beyond initial symptoms is aching joints, which can persist for several weeks after the other symptoms have subsided. 

What complications can slapped cheek syndrome lead to?

However, some types of anaemia can become much worse in people who develop slapped cheek syndrome, and the virus can also have a far greater effect on those who are immunocompromised. Pregnant women who develop the condition are at a greater risk of miscarriage in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, but most (about 60%) will already be immune. 

You should seek urgent medical attention if you develop the characteristic rash during pregnancy, or if you have a condition that affects your immune system or a blood disorder, such as sickle cell anaemia.

If you’re looking for support and advice on how to manage the virus and alleviate symptoms, you can speak to a clinician using our online video consultation service. We work with UK-based doctors registered with the General Medical Council, who can provide input at a time convenient for you.

Page last reviewed:  16/06/2020
Diagnosis and treatment

What are the causes of slapped cheek syndrome?

Slapped cheek syndrome is caused by the parvovirus B19. It’s found in the saliva droplets of someone who has the infection, so it can be spread easily by coughing and sneezing. You can contract the virus by inhaling these droplets or through coming into contact with them on surfaces.

The virus works by targeting the erythroid progenitor cells, which create red blood cells. They are found in bone marrow, and the time between contracting the virus and seeing the first symptoms is usually between two and three weeks.

How is slapped cheek syndrome diagnosed?

A doctor will usually be able to diagnose the condition fairly simply by assessing symptoms. The appearance of the distinctive ‘slapped cheek’ rash on the face is the clearest indication, but this can also be accompanied by a more patchy rash on the torso and extremities. A doctor may assess you for pain and stiffness in the joints, which may be present amongst adults with the condition.

The virus typically causes symptoms similar to flu, such as a high temperature, headache, a runny nose and a sore throat.

Will I need tests?

Not usually. Diagnosis can often be made on examination of symptoms.

Sometimes symptoms of slapped cheek syndrome can resemble other conditions, such as rubella. A doctor may therefore check to see whether someone has been vaccinated for these conditions to help rule them out.

If you have a blood disorder, or are pregnant, you may need a blood test, such as a full blood count. Many people are immune to the condition, and a blood test will normally show this. 

If you’re at a higher risk of developing complications from slapped cheek syndrome, you’ll need to be more closely monitored.

How is slapped cheek syndrome managed?

With plenty of rest and hydration. Symptoms normally improve within a couple of weeks, but some adults may continue to have joint stiffness after the infection has cleared for a few weeks longer. This should improve on its own.

A doctor might need to keep a closer eye on people with a higher risk of complications (for example people with a weakened immune system). People who develop anaemia as a result of the infection may need to be looked after in hospital until the infection has passed.

Page last reviewed:  16/06/2020
Questions and Answers

How is slapped cheek syndrome treated?

Slapped cheek syndrome can usually be treated by allowing the infection to pass, whilst taking on board lots of fluids and resting. It can also help to take mild NSAIDs such as ibuprofen and paracetamol, to relieve any associated pain or headache.

How long will it take for me to recover?

Slapped cheek syndrome is a self-limiting condition which usually lasts for no more than three weeks. The rashes on the cheeks and body should start to disappear after two weeks. 

In some cases, the redness from the rashes may be exacerbated by increased body temperature (by taking a bath, for instance) but this isn’t a sign of the condition worsening.

Adults with the virus may notice some joint discomfort in the weeks after the infection has gone, but this should get better on its own.

However, if you’ve been admitted to hospital with slapped cheek syndrome because you have anaemia, it may take longer for you to recover. 

Can I consult a doctor about slapped cheek syndrome online?

Slapped cheek syndrome can cause serious health issues (in pregnant women or people with blood disorders, for example) but most of the time the condition can be resolved without medication. Our doctors can issue advice about managing slapped cheek syndrome through our online video consultation service. Book an appointment at a suitable time for you.

Page last reviewed:  16/06/2020

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