Slapped Cheek Syndrome – signs, symptoms and treatments

Slapped Cheek is common in young children - but how do you know it's Slapped Cheek for sure? And what does the rash really look like? All you need to know - plus when it's safe for them to go back to school

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It can be worrying when your child gets a rash, especially with a name like Slapped Cheek Syndrome.

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Fear not: Slapped Cheek Syndrome is a pretty mild rash in the vast majority of cases, and is also pretty common for kids of primary school age to get.

Here’s everything you need to know about Slapped Cheek Syndrome – symptoms, causes and how you can treat it at home

What is Slapped Cheek Syndrome?

“Slapped Cheek Syndrome is a viral illness which is also called Fifth disease or parvovirus B19,” explains MFM’s resident GP, Dr Philippa Kaye (read more about Dr Philippa on her dedicated website).

Most children who get it will have symptoms, says medical journalist Prisca Middlemiss, in the book What’s That Rash? However, up to a quarter of people won’t really have any symptoms at all.

What are the signs and symptoms of Slapped Cheek Syndrome?

“In children, Slapped Cheek Sydnrome is generally mild,” reassures Dr Philippa. “It starts with feeling unwell, a fever and runny nose.”

Look out for other signs of Slapped Cheek Syndrome developing, like:

  • a high temperature (38 degrees and above)
  • feeling sick or nauseous
  • runny nose 
  • sore throat
  • headaches
  • your child generally feeling unwell.

Your little one might be feeling this way for about a week – and it’s during this week or so that the virus can infect other people.

Once the rash appears, Slapped Cheek in your child is no longer contagious to other people.

“One to 3 days later you get a bright red rash over the cheeks, literally as if you had been slapped round the face,” Dr Philippa explains – like the picture above.

“One to 3 days later a fine, pink rash may (but not always) appear on the body, which can be itchy.”

The whole thing usually resolves itself within 3 weeks – but in some cases the rash on the face can stick around for about 6 weeks.

Sometimes, it might flash up for weeks after the cheek rash has gone – especially when your child is hot and bothered, exercising or feeling anxious/stressed.

How do I know if it’s a Slapped Cheek rash?

Look at the picture above. Does your child’s rash look similar? Red, blotchy, maybe a bit pinkish, raw, sore, and like an actual slap across the face?

Does it also feel hot to the touch, like a burning sensation? If so, it’s probably Slapped Cheek.

We do know that Slapped Cheek looks a lot like Rubella (German Measles), which can be really worrying and alarming for some parents.

Keep in mind that your child has likely been vaccinated with the MMR against Rubella, and also that Slapped Cheek is a common occurrence in primary school children.

So, don’t panic, listen to your gut, and if you’re really unsure or worried – speak to a doctor for their opinion.

How can you treat Slapped Cheek Syndrome in kids?

Fortunately, Slapped Cheek is usually very mild in children and doesn’t always need treating at the docs.

To treat children with Slapped Cheek, you can:

  • keep your little one at home during the fever/runny nose stage
  • make sure they’re well-rested 
  • drinking plenty of fluids 
  • give your little one some ibuprofen or paracetamol if they need it
  • use something cooling on the cheeks, like a cold towel, if the rash is itching/burning.

Fortunately, once your little one has had Slapped Cheek, they won’t get it again. Kinda like Chickenpox. Win!

When can kids with Slapped Cheek Syndrome go back to school?

As Slapped Cheek isn’t contagious for the duration of the virus, your child will be able to return to school once their sicky symptoms have passed. 

“Once the rash develops you can return to school (as long as they don’t have a fever) but you must inform the school so they can let any pregnant women/staff know,” says Dr Philippa.

Slapped Cheek’s not something an expectant woman would want to catch – so they need to be aware of the situation so they can check in with their GP.

“Many people will have had the infection in childhood and will therefore be immune – but if they are not and contract the condition during pregnancy, it can lead to a very small risk of miscarriage or other complications.

“They will need to be informed and seek their own doctor’s advice.”

Can Slapped Cheek Syndrome be more serious in children?

Like we’ve said above, Slapped Cheek in most cases is pretty mild in children and clears itself up after a few weeks.

It takes around 6 weeks, at most, for the rash to go away.

However, if you or your child:

  • are pregnant
  • have a weakened immune system
  • have an immune system disorder
  • have a blood disorder

– you’ll need to seek advice from your GP, as it can be a little more complicated in those case.

Slapped Cheek is much rarer in adults but again, keep an eye on your symptoms, and if one of the above applies to you and you think you could have it, speak to your GP. 

If you’re really worried about something, you can always call 111: the NHS number for non-medical emergencies.

Images: Science Medical Library 

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