Fifth Disease and Miscarriage

Pregnancy and fifth disease. Getty Images Credit: Jim Craigmyle

Officially known as parvovirus B19, fifth disease is a viral infection that causes a characteristic "slapped cheek" rash and a lacy red rash on the trunk and sometimes the limbs. Individuals who are affected may experience fever and tiredness before the onset of the rash or may have no symptoms until the rash appears. Note that parvovirus B19 is not the same parvovirus that afflicts household dogs.

Fifth disease is common in children and rarely causes serious complications in childhood. Adults who contract parvovirus B19 may have joint pain and swelling, but this usually goes away without medical treatment.

Fifth Disease and Miscarriage

The concern about fifth disease is that exposure to parvovirus B19 during pregnancy has been documented to cause complications for some women, including a chance of miscarriage.

The link between fifth disease and miscarriage causes many pregnant women to panic when they learn of possible exposure to the virus, an understandable reaction. However, even though miscarriage due to fifth disease is a slim possibility, the odds of complications from parvovirus B19 infection during pregnancy are actually quite low.

About 50% of women are already immune to the virus and should not become infected at all after an exposure. In women who do become infected, more than 95% will have a mild illness that resolves normally — and without lasting effects for the baby. Parvovirus B19 actually causes miscarriage in less than 5% of exposed pregnant women.

That being said, even though exposure to fifth disease during pregnancy may not be a reason to panic, it still makes sense to see your doctor for advice if you have been exposed. Your doctor may wish to conduct extra monitoring to watch for complications. It also makes sense to avoid exposure to someone you know is infected — but infected individuals are typically contagious before the rash develops so avoiding exposure entirely may not be realistic.

There's no vaccine against fifth disease and no way to prevent infection from occurring after exposure, but your doctor may be able to do a blood test to check whether or not you are immune if your workplace has a fifth disease outbreak and you are trying to decide whether or not to stay home.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
  • Centers for Disease Control, "Parvovirus B19 Infection and Pregnancy." November 2, 2015.
  • Wisconsin Department of Health & Family Services, "Fifth Disease." Disease Fact Sheet Series 20 Mar 2008.