Fifth disease is also known as the “slapped cheek” disease because of the rash that develops on the faces on infected people. It is a highly contagious illness, caused by human parvovirus B19 and most often seen in younger children. While fifth disease is a very mild illness for most children and adults, if a pregnant woman gets the infection it can cause complications for her unborn baby. The infection can create severe anemia in the fetus, causing miscarriage or stillbirth.
Because the disease is common in children, pregnant women working in childcare facilities, preschools or primary schools are at elevated risk for exposure to the virus. There is no vaccine for fifth disease, and really no method of prevention other than avoidance of infected people and a good hand washing regime. A unique program in Quebec offers protection for the unborn babies of women who do not have immunities built up against fifth disease infection.
Preventive reassignment or leave
Quebec offers the only government-run North American program that allows women paid leave during pregnancy or breastfeeding for preventative reasons. The program receives almost 130 requests each week from around the province. Of those requests, 9 percent come from teachers at the preschool and primary levels.
Preventative leave allows teaching staff to collect 90 percent of their salary while staying safely away from the school environment. Teachers’ maternity leave is begun one month before her due date, but is otherwise untouched so she can still enjoy plenty of time to bond with her child after the birth. A pregnant woman must have her doctor file the necessary paperwork to show that she is at risk. Recommendations are made by the public health office, and a final decision is rendered by the CSST, Quebec’s workers’ compensation board.
The preventative leave and reassignment program was designed to protect women and their babies from occupational, biological and chemical dangers in the workplace. It targets both pregnant and breastfeeding women. While there is a possibility of reassignment, teachers are often given leave. The employer must hold the woman’s position for her until her return. Preventative leave is available to both part-time and full time employees.
“Parvovirus infection.” Mayo Clinic
“Preventive withdrawal program: ‘For a safe maternity experience’.” Commission de la santé et de la sécurité du travail
“Reassignment or preventative leave: For a safe pregnancy.” Direction de santé publique