by Erik Steel
Parvovirus B19, commonly called parvo, is an erythrovirus that causes generally mild illness in children, and occasionally in adults. Other parvoviruses cause disease in animals, but these cannot be transmitted between species. Because of the characteristic reddening of the face, parvovirus infection is sometimes known as "slapped-cheek disease." Parvovirus illness is also known as "fifth disease."
Parvovirus B19 is contagious to people who have not previously had it. Transmission is most common among children, although adults can be affected. Parvo is only contagious in the week before rash develops and not after. The virus is transmitted through hand-to-hand contact or contact with fluid from coughing or sneezing.
Before the bright red rash, which resembles blood brought to the surface of the skin by a slap, develops on the face, children experience typical symptoms of viral infection, including sore throat, headache, a low fever, stomach upset, tiredness and itching. Once the facial rash develops, it may spread to other parts of the body and appear more pink. Adults mostly experience soreness in the joints as a result of infection with parvovirus, though they can sometimes develop the rash as well.
General home care is recommended for the management of viral symptoms that result from parvo infection. This includes rest, fluids, and the use of painkillers, fever reducers and antihistamines to relieve symptoms. Adults experiencing joint pain as a result of infection should limit activity and take aspirin or ibuprofen.
Parvovirus infection can lead to anemia in some people. People who have chronic anemia for any reason can experience severe acute anemia as a result of infection with parvo. Infection with parvo can also lead to severe anemia in people who have weakened immune systems. People experiencing anemia in parvo do not generally develop rash, but should see a physician for their anemia.
Hand-washing is the only recommended method of prevention for parvovirus, as no vaccine is available. Fortunately, people who have previously had parvo will not contract the virus again, as life-long immunity develops as a result of first infection.