Slapped Cheek Syndrome and the risk to unborn babies

Most parents have heard of Slapped Cheek Syndrome and just as quickly dismissed it from their mind. After all, it’s just a mild childhood illness right? Wrong.

While Slapped Cheek Syndrome, otherwise known as Parvovirus, is generally a mild, viral condition, the virus can cause serious risk if contracted by a pregnant woman. The results for her unborn baby can be fatal.

If the airborne virus is contracted during pregnancy, it can cross the placenta and cause severe anaemia, which if left untreated, may cause death of the baby in-utero.

In Australia, 10 babies die from Parvovirus every year.

Many women are unaware of the severe complications of Parvovirus and how treatment can protect their baby.

The risk of complications for pregnant women is highest between 12 – 20 weeks gestation. If exposed to the virus, pregnant women should see their GP, midwife or obstetrician to arrange a blood test as soon as possible.

For women who test positive for the infection, their pregnancy should be followed with weekly ultrasound scans for 10-12 weeks to monitor the baby’s health. Prevention of anaemia can be managed by blood transfusion if necessary.

Fortunately, more than 50% of pregnant women will have already contracted the virus when they were a child so they, and their unborn baby, will now be immune.

Need to know

Symptoms of Parvovirus in children

  • ‘Slapped cheek’ rash on the face
  • Lacy, red rash on the trunk and limbs
  • Cold-like symptoms
  • Fever
  • For more information, see the factsheet

Symptoms of Parvovirus in adults

  • may include the red rash
  • and/or joint pain or swelling in the hands, wrists and knees on both sides of the body
  • these symptoms are often very mild and can go unnoticed.

How to prevent contracting Parvovirus

  • pregnant women should make sure they wash their hands regularly
  • be vigilant by cleaning contaminated surfaces
  • avoid going to places with known cases of Parvovirus, which may mean taking time off work.

See your GP if you are concerned.

Associate Professor Daniel Challis, Medical Advisor to the NSW Pregnancy and Newborn Services Network.