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. Parvovirus or ‘Slapped Cheek Syndrome” can pose serious risk to an unborn baby.

In Australia, 10 babies die from Parvovirus every year. While it’s is generally a mild, childhood illness, if contracted by a pregnant woman, the virus can cause severe anaemia in the unborn baby. If left untreated,  it may cause the death of the baby in-utero. And during spring, Parvovirus is more prevalent than normal.

Many women are unaware of the severe complications of Parvovirus and how treatment can protect their baby. Associate Professor Daniel Challis, Medical Advisor to the NSW Pregnancy and Newborn Services Network, is warning expectant mums about the virus and the need to take extra care.

Symptoms of Parvovirus in children:

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

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.

Stop the spread of 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 (this may mean taking time off work).
  • See you GP if you are concerned

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 to 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.

Associate Professor Daniel Challis, Medical Advisor to the NSW Pregnancy and Newborn Services Network has provided this information. For more information, see the factsheet