What are the risks of slapped cheek syndrome during pregnancy?

Most pregnant women who get slapped cheek syndrome have healthy babies. However, depending on what stage of pregnancy you’re at, there’s a small risk of miscarriage or complications for the unborn baby.

What is slapped cheek syndrome?

Slapped cheek syndrome, also known as fifth disease, is caused by a virus called parvovirus B19. The main symptom is a blotchy red rash on your face that looks like you have slapped cheeks. Other symptoms can include:

  • headache
  • mild fever
  • sore throat

However, in about 20-30% of infections, there are no symptoms.

Slapped cheek syndrome usually affects children. Studies have shown that 60% of adults in the UK have antibodies to parvovirus B19. It’s thought that once you’ve been infected, you’re immune for the rest of your life.

It’s difficult to avoid contact with people who have parvovirus B19 because they may have no symptoms. Once the rash appears, the person is no longer contagious.

Complications during pregnancy

If you become infected with parvovirus B19 during your first 20 weeks of pregnancy, there’s an increased risk of miscarriage.

If you become infected during weeks nine to 20 of your pregnancy, there’s also a low risk that the baby will develop foetal hydrops. This is a serious condition where abnormal levels of fluid can develop in the baby, causing complications such as heart failure and anaemia. Some babies can recover from foetal hydrops, however, the condition can be fatal.

There’s no evidence that infection with parvovirus B19 during pregnancy causes birth defects or development problems later in childhood.

When to get advice

See your GP or midwife as soon as possible if you’re pregnant and you think you’ve come into contact with parvovirus B19. You should do this whether you develop a rash or not. There’s no routine screening test for parvovirus B19 in pregnancy.

Your GP will do a blood test to check if you have antibodies to the virus from a current or previous infection.

If you test positive for parvovirus B19 in your first 20 weeks of pregnancy, you will have ultrasound scans throughout your pregnancy to monitor your baby. If your baby develops foetal hydrops, they may need a blood transfusion while still in the womb.

Parvovirus and rubella

In adults parvovirus B19 has many of the same symptoms as rubella. It’s likely you will be tested for both. If you have not been fully immunised against rubella, it may be best to avoid contact with other pregnant women as it is difficult to tell the difference between parvovirus B19 and rubella.

Read more about pregnancy and infections.

Further information:


Slapped cheek syndrome

Slapped cheek syndrome is a viral infection and the fifth most common disease in children. Here, a GP talks about the symptoms to look out for.

Media last reviewed: 09/07/2015

Next review due: 09/07/2017

Page last reviewed: 08/12/2013

Next review due: 07/12/2015