When pregnant, an expectant mother usually does everything in her power to avoid exposing herself or her baby to harm. I’ve been very vigilant, but on Sunday night and Monday morning when I realized that the redness and itching on my chest and abdomen seemed to be much more than simply stretching skin, I began to panic. Last week in my pediatric clinic, I diagnosed a child with having “slapped cheek” or “fifth disease.” It is a rash caused by the parvovirus B19. For children and adults it is virtually harmless and it resolves spontaneously without treatment. Well, in all my medical books, it states that people with sickle cell disease, the immunocompromised, and PREGNANT women should stay away from children with known infection. Fetal death is a possible complication for a woman exposed in pregnancy. Of course, I washed my hands, used gloves, and tried not to get too close to my patient, but I realized I had still exposed myself. My attending tried to aleve any fears by telling me that there have only been 3 known cases in a 100-year literature search for severe complications. Ok, so that made me feel better, until I woke up Monday morning with a horrible, itchy rash.
I was supposed to take a 5 hour test that morning. My pregnant hormones however, took over. After several tries and waiting for returned phone calls, I finally got a hold of my OB’s nurse. She sent me to get blood work drawn to determine if I had previous immunity to the virus or an acute infection. Then I had to wait…3 days. However, just having my blood drawn calmed me down. I did a little more research and saw that the risk is greater in the first half of pregnancy, and even then (just as my attending said) the risk is very low. Now, 3 days later, the rash has nearly faded and my blood work came back negative for acute infection.
So, what was that rash? I think it must have been an allergic reaction to a new cocoa butter that I had bought last week. As a medical student, however, I have enough knowledge to make me dangerous to myself, assuming that the worst case scenario has come true. My rational mind knew my baby was not in any danger, but my hormones dictated that I act otherwise. (Oh, and I took the test 2 days later when my emotions were a little more under control).