Pregnancy and ‘Slapped Cheek’

Slapped cheek disease. What does the virus mean for you and your baby?

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Slapped cheek disease couldn’t be more appropriately nick-named – if you get it you’ll probably look like you’ve been in a bar brawl and you might feel a bit under the weather too. Also called fifth disease, or parvovirus B19, it is a viral infection that causes a blotchy, bright red rash on your cheeks.

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If you’re pregnant and you catch Slapped Cheek you should see your doctor asap but in most cases there’s nothing to worry about…

It sounds frightening. What is slapped cheek disease exactly?


Slapped cheek disease is caused by the parvovirus B19. It usually affects children and once the rash appears, you’re no longer contagious. The problem is that although it can look pretty drastic it can also be symptom-free making it hard to avoid people who have it.

Symptoms of slapped cheek disease include:

  • Blotchy rash on cheeks
  • High temperature
  • Cold-like symptoms
  • Lacy, blotchy rash on the body

The illness can be so mild that most of the time doctors don’t always prescribe treatment. If they do, it’s likely to be just painkillers.

“The good news is that 60% of us will already have had it, most without realising it. This means most of us will have developed the antibodies to protect us when we come into contact with slapped cheek disease,” says GP, Dr Ellie Cannon, author of Keep Calm, The New Mum’s Manual.

So the theory is, once you’ve been infected, you’re immune for the rest of your life.

Help, I’m pregnant and I’ve been exposed to a child with slapped cheek…


The virus that causes slapped cheek disease can affect a developing baby, so go and see your GP if you’re expecting and are concerned.

“There is a slight risk of miscarriage if you are infected with the virus in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. But this is rare and in most cases, women who have caught the virus early in pregnancy go on to have healthy babies,” says Dr Cannon.

“I found out when I was 15 weeks pregnant a child in my class had it, got signed off work and blood tests. First one came back that I didn’t have it then had a repeat test 4 weeks after the first. It came back that I had caught it.” becs73

What will happen if doctors think I have slapped cheek during pregnancy?

Firstly your doctor will do a blood test to see if you have had it in the past. If it finds you have, then you are unlikely to require any further tests or treatment. If you haven’t had it before, you will be closely monitored with further blood tests and scans to check the baby is ok. “Try not to worry: women exposed to slapped cheek are very closely monitored in pregnancy and most women affected will go on to have healthy babies,” assures Dr Cannon.

“I was exposed to this particular virus when pregnant with my first baby at between 19 and 20 weeks. It turned out I wasn’t immune and I did actually contract the virus and thankfully my daughter now two and a half is more than perfectly fine.” Jojomummy 

Can it be prevented?

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Sadly there is no preventative vaccine for slapped cheek syndrome. The best way to avoid catching it, as with most bugs, is with frequent hand washing. This can reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other people. Once the rash breaks out, you’re past the contagious stage, so staying away from schools or places of work if you realise you do have it, is pointless. The best thing to do is spread awareness!

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