Parvovirus Infection

Parvovirus B19 is different from the type of parvovirus that infects animals. You can’t get the infection from your pet, or infect them. Parvovirus usually doesn’t cause symptoms. You may take some over-the-counter medications but it’s unlikely you’ll need to see a healthcare provider for further treatment. Fifth disease is caused by parvovirus B19.

Overview

What is parvovirus? What is a parvovirus infection (parvovirus B19)?

The parvovirus in humans is different than the one by the same name found in dogs and cats. Humans get a different type: B19. Parvovirus B19 is a common infectious disease that spreads from person to person and most often results in no or very mild symptoms. The virus sometimes targets the cells that mature into red blood cells. Infection causes a temporary stoppage of the production of these cells. The effect of this stoppage is only apparent in individuals who don’t produce normal red blood cells.

The parvovirus causes fifth disease, also known as “slapped cheek” disease, which is very common in school-aged children.

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Who is more likely to get a parvovirus infection?

Parvovirus affects people of all ages and ethnic groups. You’re more likely to have symptoms if you’re immunocompromised (your immune system doesn’t work as well) or have problems producing normal red blood cells. Healthy school-aged children are also more likely to get the infection but experience no or very mild symptoms.

How common are parvovirus infections?

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Up to 50% of adults in the United States have had a parvovirus B19 infection. Most experience no symptoms or mild symptoms.

How is a parvovirus infection spread?

Human parvovirus is present in the nasal mucus, spit or saliva. The virus can be spread through airborne droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It may also spread through blood or contaminated blood products. Pregnant people with parvovirus can spread the virus to the fetus through the placenta.

Does a parvovirus infection cause a miscarriage? What happens when a pregnant person gets a parvovirus B19 infection?

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Pregnant people who become infected may be at increased risk for a miscarriage, although most people have been infected prior to pregnancy and are thus protected against infection. Most pregnant people who become infected during pregnancy produce normal, healthy babies.

Rarely, the fetus may be at greater risk for fetal anemia or hydrops fetalis, a condition in which there is an abnormal buildup of fluid in two or more areas of the body. People who become infected during the first half of their pregnancy are at greatest risk for hydrops fetalis.

Can the parvovirus be passed from dog to human? Human to dog?

No, the virus can't be spread from pet to person because the parvovirus that affects humans differs from the type that affects dogs.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes a parvovirus infection?

A parvovirus infection is caused by the parvovirus B19 virus that spreads from person to person.

What are the symptoms of a parvovirus infection?

Symptoms of a parvovirus B19 infection in children can be different than in adults. Symptoms include:

  • Swollen and/or painful joints (more common in adults).
  • Fatigue.
  • Low-grade fever.
  • Headache.
  • Upset stomach.
  • Arthritis (some cases have caused chronic arthritis or even rheumatoid arthritis).
  • Gloves and socks syndrome (less common and usually in adults).
  • Fifth disease, also known as “Slapped Cheek” disease.

The parvovirus can also, rarely, cause you or your child’s body to stop making new blood cells. This is a serious symptom because it can cause severe anemia. You may experience this symptom if you have:

  • Sickle cell disease or other types of anemia.
  • A weakened immune system. This can be caused by cancer, leukemia, HIV or an organ transplant.

What are the symptoms of fifth disease?

Symptoms of fifth disease caused by the parvovirus include:

  • The “slapped cheek” rash. Four to 14 days after your child is infected, you may see a pink or red rash on their chin and cheeks. This rarely happens in adults.
  • A raised “lacy” rash on their torso, arms and legs.

The rashes can stick around for several weeks — getting better or worse, coming and going. Heat, sunlight and stress can make the rashes worse.

Sometimes a second rash occurs several days after the slapped cheek rash appears. It may be present on your arms, legs, chest, back or butt. The rash might cause itching and discomfort. It usually disappears after seven to 10 days, but sometimes it lasts for several weeks.

How long does a parvovirus B19 infection last?

The parvovirus B19 incubation period (the time between when you’re exposed to the virus to when you have symptoms) is between three days and three weeks. If you have symptoms, you’ll only have them for a short time, about five to seven days.

You are no longer infectious after the rash from fifth disease appears.

Do certain foods or drinks worsen or improve a parvovirus infection?

No, your diet does not affect a parvovirus B19 infection.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is a parvovirus infection diagnosed? What tests are done?

Your healthcare provider will perform a physical examination, ask about any symptoms you’re experiencing and what medications you’re taking. In most cases, no testing is done as there aren't usually symptoms.

If your healthcare provider suspects you may have parvovirus B19 and you are at high risk for complications, they might test your blood or bone marrow (this is rare) or, if you’re pregnant, amniotic fluid or blood from the fetal cord. If they suspect you had it in the past, they may check for antibodies in your blood.

If you’re pregnant, your healthcare provider may recommend more ultrasounds to keep an eye on the fetus.

What questions might a healthcare provider ask to help diagnose a parvovirus infection?

  • What are your symptoms?
  • How long have you had these symptoms?
  • Are you immunocompromised?
  • What medications do you take?
  • Have you been around anyone who has a parvovirus B19 infection?
  • Have you been around anyone who has fifth disease?

Management and Treatment

How is a parvovirus B19 infection treated? What medicines may help?

Parvovirus is usually self-limiting, which means it will disappear on its own. For children and adults who are generally in good health, no treatment is necessary. However, you may want to try the following:

  • Take acetaminophen (like Tylenol®) to relieve your headache and fever.
  • Take nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (like Advil®) for your joint pain and swelling.
  • Drink plenty of fluids and get enough rest.

If you develop hydrops fetalis or severe anemia, the fetus may need a blood transfusion. There is a small risk of stillbirth or miscarriage.

Who can treat/manage a parvovirus infection?

It’s unlikely that you’ll need treatment for a parvovirus B19 infection. But, if you do, you can see your primary healthcare provider.

How soon after treatment will I feel better?

The symptoms should go away after five to seven days.

Prevention

How can I prevent parvovirus infection?

Currently there is no vaccine available to prevent human parvovirus infection, although research is being done on possible vaccines.

Tips for preventing or reducing the risk of infection include:

  • Frequent hand washing with soap and water.
  • Avoid close contact with those who may be infected.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes.
  • Stay home from work or school if you’re infected.

Outlook / Prognosis

Can you become immune to the parvovirus B19 virus?

Yes, but not until after you’ve had the infection. You can’t get it again. Antibodies to the virus in your blood indicate that you have been infected and are immune to getting it again.

Can a parvovirus infection go away on its own?

Yes. The parvovirus B19 should go away after five to seven days.

When can I go back to work/school?

After the rash associated with fifth disease appears, you’re not contagious. You may return to work or school.

What are the complications of a parvovirus B19 infection?

People with weakened immune systems are more likely to develop serious complications if they become infected with parvovirus.

There are usually no complications with fifth disease.

Can parvovirus B19 cause birth defects?

No.

Living With

Can I live a normal life with a parvovirus infection? What’s it like living with a parvovirus infection?

Most people don’t even get the symptoms of parvovirus B19. Those that do experience mild symptoms that last five to seven days. It doesn’t interfere with your daily life for too long unless you’re pregnant or immunocompromised.

Will a parvovirus infection make me more vulnerable to other infections?

No. You’re no more or less likely to get other infections just because you’ve had parvovirus B19.

How is fifth disease, which is caused by a parvovirus infection, treated?

Although about half of the population gets fifth disease at some point, there is usually no treatment needed.

When should I see my healthcare provider?

If you even have the symptoms of parvovirus B19, they should be mild enough that you don’t have to see a healthcare provider. However, no matter what, you should get checked out if you’re pregnant.

What questions should I ask my healthcare provider about parvovirus infection?

  • Do I need treatment for parvovirus B19?
  • What’s the best treatment?
  • Are there home remedies I can try?
  • What over-the-counter medications work best?
  • Do I need to see a specialist?
  • What specialist should I see?

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Parvovirus is usually harmless. But if you’re pregnant or immunocompromised, you should still see your healthcare provider. Follow all of their treatment recommendations.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 05/10/2021.

Learn more about our editorial process.

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