Children's diseases: German measles and slapped cheek disease

11 May 2014

Children’s diseases can be frightening if you don’t know what to expect. We give you advice in this series of six articles. In this, the second article, we look at German measles and slapped cheek disease.

In this series of six articles we tell you everything you should know about the 12 children’s diseases in which rashes occur and that go hand in hand with fever.

German measles (rubella)

German measles occurs most commonly in schoolgoing children. In younger children it may pass unnoticed.

A fever isn’t a prominent symptom and the rash can appear suddenly or after two days of suffering from a sore throat and feeling ill.

Small, flat, pink spots first appear on the face, then spread rapidly to the torso and limbs. The spots merge and by the next day form a red area that’s cleared up by the third day.

The lymph glands behind the head and at the top of the neck are enlarged and sensitive. Otherwise nothing seems wrong. Some children, especially teens, suffer pain in their joints.

German measles is mostly not serious and no specific treatment is needed. The only danger is catching it in early pregnancy because the fetus may be harmed by the rubella virus.

This is the main reason for routine vaccination with the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and German measles. Rare complications are an inflammation of the brain and haemorrhaging.

Consult a doctor if your child bruises easily or if red spots appear on their skin.

Slapped cheek disease (Erythema infectiosum or fifth disease)

This viral disease is mostly not serious. There’s a slight fever followed by a rash.

It occurs mostly in schoolgoing children and there are often no symptoms. Nearly always the first sign of the disease is extremely red cheeks with a slight paleness around the mouth.

Then a red, spotty, slightly itchy rash may appear on the torso and limbs. It vanishes from the torso over a period of one to three weeks but remains for a while on the limbs.

It looks like a lace pattern that comes and goes, depending on temperature changes such as cold weather or a hot bath.

Sometimes the initial fever is worse, with a headache or joint pain before the rash appears. The virus is spread by saliva droplets that are exhaled.

Usually no treatment is necessary. Isolation isn’t necessary since the disease is no longer infectious by the time the rash appears. The virus attacks the cells that manufacture red blood corpuscles.

The disease has no detrimental effect on children who are otherwise healthy. Children with chronic blood conditions or cancer can develop severe anaemia.

Joint pains sometimes occur in older children and adults.

Important

Read the article in our series about what to do if your child is feverish and when you should consult a doctor.

Other childhood diseases:

  • Click here for more about measles and baby measles.
  • Click here for more about scarlet fever and glandular fever.
  • Click here for more about Kawasaki disease and meningococcal infection.
  • Click here for more about shingles and chicken pox.
  • Click here for more about  fever blisters and hand, foot and mouth disease.

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