Parvovirus B19 is a common virus that spreads from person to person. It’s mostly passed through respiratory secretions, like saliva, mucus, or sputum. These can spread when people cough or sneeze.

You may have heard of parvovirus in cats and dogs. But B19 is different — it only affects humans. You can’t catch parvovirus B19 from pets, nor can you give it to them.

Most of the time, parvovirus B19 doesn’t cause serious problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 2 out of every 10 people with parvovirus B19 won’t notice any symptoms.

If you do experience symptoms, they’re likely to be mild. But some people may be at high risk for developing more serious problems if they catch this virus. Groups at higher risk include those who have weakened immune systems, are pregnant, or have certain types of anemia.

Parvovirus B19 can cause fifth disease, a classic viral illness, often with flu-like symptoms and then a rash. Some refer to it as “slapped cheek” syndrome because reddening of the cheeks is a classic symptom. Fifth disease can affect anyone, but it more often affects children.

Parvovirus B19 usually goes away on its own and often doesn’t require any specific treatment.

Read on to learn more about parvovirus B19 in humans, who’s at risk, and how to manage the virus.

Possible symptoms of parvovirus B19 in humans include:

  • a raised rash on the torso, arms, or legs
  • a pink or red rash on the cheeks and chin
  • painful or swollen joints (more common in adults)
  • fatigue
  • low grade fever
  • headache
  • stomachache

The rash develops fairly late and usually goes away after about 7 to 10 days. In some cases, it may linger for several weeks. The rash can cause itching and may worsen after exposure to heat, sunlight, or stress.

In very rare cases, parvovirus B19 can cause your body to stop making new blood cells. This is called a transient aplastic crisis. You may be more likely to develop this symptom if you have:

  • sickle cell anemia, an inherited disease that causes abnormally shaped red blood cells
  • other types of anemia
  • a weakened immune system from conditions like cancer and HIV, or an organ transplant

Parvovirus and pregnancy

Pregnant people who contract a parvovirus B19 infection may have an increased chance of having a miscarriage. However, most pregnant people who contract the virus have healthy babies.

Rarely, the fetus of a pregnant person with parvovirus B19 may be at a higher risk for developing fetal anemia or hydrops fetalis, an abnormal buildup of fluid in the body. Infection during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy raises this risk.

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Parvovirus B19 is an infectious virus that spreads from person to person. It spreads through nasal secretions, saliva, or spit when a person sneezes or coughs.

It can also spread via:

  • affected blood or blood products by plasma
  • bone marrow or organ transplant
  • a pregnant person to their baby

Anyone can develop human parvovirus, but school-aged children are more likely to develop fifth disease. About 2% to 10% of children under 5 years old in developed countries get a parvovirus B19 infection. Usually, healthy kids experience few, if any, symptoms.

You may be prone to experiencing symptoms or complications of the virus if you have:

  • sickle cell anemia
  • other types of chronic anemia
  • a weakened immune system

Studies show that people with sickle cell anemia are more likely to become seriously ill if they get parvovirus B19. Sickle cell anemia is more common among:

  • Black people
  • people of Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian, and Mediterranean descent
  • Hispanic Americans from Central and South America

In the United States, parvovirus B19 infections are more frequent in the late winter, spring, and early summer. Small outbreaks occur every 3 to 4 years.

According to 2017 research, about 1% to 5% of pregnant people get a parvovirus B19 infection. But about 30% of those that do will pass it on to their babies.

Typically, doctors diagnose human parvovirus by performing a physical exam and asking about your symptoms.

Sometimes, they may order a blood test if you’re at high risk for complications. The blood test checks for antibodies your body produces to fight the infection.

A polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test can also confirm parvovirus B19.

Pregnancy screening

If you’re pregnant and your doctor suspects you have parvovirus B19, you may undergo further testing.

A doctor may order an antibody or PCR test on amniotic fluid or blood drawn from the umbilical cord. You might also need to undergo more frequent ultrasounds to monitor the fetus.

Pregnant people exposed to parvovirus B19 should let their doctor know right away.

For most people, human parvovirus will go away on its own without any need for treatment. However, medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil) can help relieve discomfort.

It’s also important to get plenty of rest and drink enough fluids if you have the virus.

People or fetuses who develop severe anemia may need a blood transfusion.

Patients with weakened immune systems may receive special antibodies to treat the infection.

Some people who contract parvovirus B19 won’t develop symptoms. Others experience mild symptoms that don’t interfere with their daily lives for long.

People who are pregnant, have compromised immune systems, or have a form of anemia, may need to take special precautions if they develop parvovirus.

Most people clear the infection without issue and can’t get it again. But people with weakened immune systems may develop chronic or reactivated parvovirus if they aren’t able to clear the virus fully.

Fetal outlook

In the rare case that a fetus contracts a parvovirus B19 infection from a birthing parent, the outlook depends on when the infection occurred.

According to 2019 research, infections within the first 20 weeks had a greater risk of fetal loss.

There’s no vaccine or treatment to prevent parvovirus B19. Still, you can reduce your risk of catching or passing the virus if you:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water.
  • Cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Keep away from people who are sick.
  • Stay home when you’re sick.

Can I get parvovirus from my pet?

No, you can’t catch parvovirus B19 from your pet, and your pet can’t get it from you. The type of parvovirus that pets contract is different.

What is the incubation period for parvovirus?

It takes parvovirus B19 between 4 and 14 days to cause symptoms.

Can I spread parvovirus if I don’t have any symptoms?

Yes, you can pass the virus to others if you don’t have symptoms. Some people with parvovirus B19 don’t develop any symptoms, but the infection is still contagious.

Is there a parvovirus vaccine?

There’s no vaccine to prevent parvovirus B19. Researchers developed a potential vaccine in the 1990s, but it didn’t complete clinical trials.

Parvovirus B19 usually causes a harmless infection. But if you have a condition that affects your immune system, have sickle cell anemia, or are pregnant, you should see your doctor if you think you have the virus.

Like most contagious illnesses, the best way to stop the spread is to adopt healthy habits, such as frequent handwashing and physical distancing.