Parvovirus Infection

What is Parvovirus Infection?

Parvovirus Infection is more commonly known as fifth disease or slapped-cheek disease because of the characteristic red rash that appears on the cheeks. It is extremely common in children, especially those in daycare and school because it is highly contagious.

It is caused by parvovirus B19, and it is spread through nasal secretions, sputum and blood. In most cases the symptoms are mild and do not require treatment.  However, it can cause serious complications in adults, those with weakened immune systems, those with certain types of anemia, and in fetuses. A simple blood test is used to diagnose the infection.

What are the Symptoms of Parvovirus Infection?

After exposure and infection it can take between 4 days and two weeks for the illness to appear. Symptoms of parvovirus may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Temperature
  • Stomach discomfort
  • Headache
  • Red rash on cheeks
  • Rash may also appear on the limbs, soles of the feet, trunk and buttocks
  • Rash may be itchy

Adults with parvovirus infection do not typically have a slapped-check appearance. They typically experience aching joints of the ankles, knees, hands and wrists. The pain can last for weeks.

Parvovirus Infection Causes

Parvovirus infection in humans is caused by a parvovirus B19, which is usually spread through secretions from the respiratory system. Such secretions include:

  • Saliva
  • Sputum
  • Nasal mucous

For this reason, it is commonly contracted from the coughs or sneezes of infected individuals.

It’s also possible for parvovirus B19 to spread through blood, but transmission rarely occurs in this way. It’s possible for infected pregnant women to pass parvovirus B19 to their unborn baby due to blood transmission.

The parvovirus which infects dogs and cats cannot infect humans. For this reason, it’s impossible for humans to contract parvovirus from a pet, and pet owners will not risk infecting their pet with parvovirus if they are infected.

How is Parvovirus Infection Treated?

After the rash appears the virus is no longer transmittable. In otherwise healthy individuals, home treatment is usually enough. Symptoms are commonly treated with over-the-counter cold and pain medications. Those at risk should seek professional treatment. Hospitalization be required for those with severe anemia or compromised immune systems.

Parvovirus Infection Prevention

There is no vaccine to protect against parvovirus, so the only way to prevent it is to practice good hygiene. Hands should be washed regularly with soap and water, particularly in environments which tend to be filled with lots of people, such as at offices or schools, and especially when around people with the infection.

Individuals who are infected with parvovirus B19 should take care to cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze and cough, and to wash their hands regularly. It’s also wise to avoid touching the eyes, nose or mouth regularly, since this could result in the virus being passed from the hands to other people. People with parvovirus should stay at home until the infection has cleared to avoid passing it to others.

Pregnant women who have had parvovirus in the past may be immune to the infection and therefore do not have to worry about transmitting it to their baby. However, those who haven’t had the virus should try to avoid infected people. In most instances, parvovirus infection does not affect the baby even if the infection is passed to it, but in rare instances, the infection can cause anemia and miscarriage. For this reason, it is recommended to avoid people who are known to have the virus.

Last Reviewed:
October 07, 2016
Last Updated:
December 20, 2017