Let’s Talk About Parvovirus B19: The Human Parvovirus
What Is Parvovirus B19?
Parvovirus B19, also known as the Human Parvovirus, is a species of Parvovirus that only affects humans. It causes a highly contagious viral disease that can easily spread from one person to another. It’s found to be more common in children, but adults can become infected as well. However, children tend to get over the sickness with little to no issues, while infection in adults can sometimes turn into something more serious.
Once Parvovirus B19 enters a host, it immediately attacks mature red blood cells, causing the body to temporarily stop producing them. After the immune cells fight the virus off, red blood cell production returns to normal.
How Is It Transmitted?
Parvovirus B19 spreads through respiratory secretions, such as saliva, mucus, or nasal discharges. When an infected person coughs or sneezes near other people, the virus travels in the air and enters unsuspecting hosts. Parvovirus B19 can also spread through blood transfusion or blood products. Additionally, a pregnant woman that has the virus may also pass it to her baby in utero.
People living in places with changing seasons are more likely to become infected, especially during late winter, early summer, and spring. Sporadic outbreaks of Parvovirus B19 infection can happen every three to four years.
Also, since Parvovirus B19 is species-specific and can only affect humans, it’s not possible for people to contract the virus from dogs. Similarly, dogs and cats can’t get Parvo from infected humans.
What Are the Symptoms?
The most distinct symptom of a Parvovirus B19 infection is the mild rash illness commonly seen in children known as erythema infectiosum, also known as Fifth Disease, or slapped-cheek disease.
The rash appears as pink, slightly raised areas of skin that may form on both cheeks, and eventually extend to the arms, legs, trunk, thighs, buttocks and soles of the feet. It typically develops when the infection is almost at the end of its course and appears more visible when infected children spend time in places where the temperature is high. Other symptoms in children include nose discharges, stomach upset, fever, and headache.
Normally, infected adults don’t develop the rash. Instead, they experience joint pain or swelling. They can sometimes also develop a severe form of anemia, which is a condition that occurs when the body doesn’t have enough healthy red blood cells.
How Is It Diagnosed?
Diagnosis of a Parvovirus B19 infection can be done through a series of blood tests. The results will give your healthcare provider all the information needed to determine whether you have the virus, have been recently exposed to the virus, or have immunity against the virus. However, since this is not a routine test, you’ll need to specifically ask your healthcare provider to conduct the test.
If you suspect that you’ve contracted the virus or have been exposed to it in some way, especially if you’re pregnant, we strongly suggest that you go ahead and get tested, just to be safe.
How Is It Prevented?
There are currently no available vaccines or medications that can help treat a Parvovirus B19 infection, so the best way to keep yourself from contracting and spreading the virus is through these preventative measures:
- Always wash your hands with soap and water before eating or touching your face, nose, eyes, and mouth.
- Always carry a hand sanitizer or a handy alcohol spray when traveling.
- Wear a mask when riding public transportation vehicles.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
- Refrain from coming into close contact with people who are sick.
- Avoid going out when you are sick.