Schools See Increase in Cases of 'Fifth Disease'

Article excerpt

A virus called "fifth disease" that can cause complications in pregnant women is on the rise among children in DuPage County.

"We are seeing quite a bit more at the end of 1999 compared to last year," said DuPage County Health Department spokeswoman Nancy Gier.

Sixty cases of the disease - characterized by a rash that causes a striking redness on the cheeks - were reported in December, compared with only nine cases in 1998, she said. Day-care centers and schools also reported 31 cases in November, while only three cases were seen the year before.

But by the time the rash appears, the virus is no longer contagious.

Shubhada Lawande, a doctor at Naperville Pediatrics Associates, said her busy practice is diagnosing about one or two new cases of the virus each day.

"We see it when it comes to a rash," she said.

But by this time, the illness has run its course for the most part. Early symptoms include a low-grade fever, a cold and a cough. After the rash breaks out on the cheeks, it can spread to the arms, upper body, buttocks and legs. It has a fine, lacy and pink appearance.

While the illness is not considered as serious as its four counterparts - measles, Rubella (German measles), roseola and scarlet fever - fifth disease can pose complications for pregnant women.

"If you are pregnant and think you have been exposed, you should talk to your doctor," Lawande said, because the virus can lead to a condition that causes anemia. …