Did you know that while most adults have been exposed to the paravirus that causes Fifth Disease (also called Fifths Disease), not all are immune. In fact, adults can get Fifth Disease, and the symptoms can be different and more severe than those that appear in children. Furthermore, Fifth Disease is often hard to diagnose in adults, not only because there are different symptoms, but also because most physicians won’t be likely to test for it.
I found this out first hand, after a pretty scary couple of weeks.
On the first day that I really noticed anything, I woke up with a lot of joint pain in my hands and wrists. It was quickly followed by swelling. After just a couple of days had passed, the pain had spread to other joints, including my wrists, elbows, knees, ankles, and toes. I had trouble walking, and my fingers were so swollen that I couldn’t grasp anything; my typing reverted to hunting and pecking with the tips of two fingers. My normally loose wedding rings couldn’t get past the first bone in my ring finger.
A visit to the doctor found that my blood pressure was elevated, and even more disturbing, my resting heart rate was between 120 and 140. A normal resting heart rate is 60-80 for most healthy adults in good shape. Because of the heart rate, blood pressure and edema (swelling) I was sent to the cardiologist and the lab, giving six vials of blood for testing for everything from Lyme to bacterial infection. Everything came back negative. The symptoms were getting worse, but the doctor didn’t know how to treat me. The doctor’s office and my husband wanted me to go to the emergency room. Right before Christmas, I opted instead to monitor my own blood pressure and pulse and schedule a follow-up on December 26th. Slowly, over the next few days, the swelling and pain subsided, and I began to feel better.
It wasn’t until I read a missive from our children’s elementary school about an outbreak of Fifth Disease at the school that things began to make sense. My daughter had gotten it from a neighbor a few weeks back, and none of the other kids exhibited any symptoms, but I dutifully read the entire email. Down at the bottom, was a mention of the difference in symptoms for adults and teens–joint pain and edema. A new blood test confirmed a brand new infection of Fifth Disease.
It is important to note, that I never manifested the tell-tale “slapped-cheek” rash. I’ve since learned that the joint pain and swelling is most common in women, and it can appear without any other symptoms. Normally lasting 1-3 weeks, it sometimes persists for months. There is no current treatment, other than to relieve the symptoms, and to let the virus play out and the body heal.