PREGNANT women could be at risk of infection after an outbreak of “slapped cheek syndrome” in the city.
Specialists at Sunderland Royal Hospital have been put on alert after treating an epidemic of parvovirus B19 infection, also known as ‘fifth disease’.
The illness mostly affects children in nurseries or junior school, leaving them with bright red cheeks and symptoms of a cold.
Adults, including pregnant women, may only have symptoms of a mild cold or, quite often, no symptoms at all.
Staff at the Royal say they have seen more than 10 cases since April.
Experts say that epidemics mostly occur in a three to five-year cycle, and a total of 11 cases were recorded in Sunderland in 2007/8.
GP Ashley Liston, whose practice is at Washington Primary Care Centre, said: “Women who think they may have parvovirus and those particularly who are in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy should have a blood test.
“A lot of people are aware that it is around at the minute and are coming to us for advice or a blood test, which is the best thing to do.” Most foetuses will not be affected by the parvovirus infection, but in a small number of cases, the infection can lead to the baby becoming anaemic in the womb, meaning their blood count drops low.
In rare cases, contracting the disease can lead to the baby dying. Although the overall risk of catching the infection is generally very low, during epidemics there is a one in eight chance of picking it up.
Pregnant women who feel they may have been in contact with parvovirus B19 should contact their community midwife or GP, and a blood test can be sent which will let doctors know if there has been a recent infection.
Sunderland Royal Hospital obstetric consultant Helen Cameron said: “Anyone worried about parvovirus should contact their midwife or GP for advice.
“Parvovirus is a common childhood illness and generally mild in nature, but we are asking members of the public, particularly pregnant women and health staff, to be increasingly vigilant over the next few weeks.”