Parvovirus infection, also called slapped-cheek disease, is a common and highly contagious childhood disease that is distinguished by the development of a face rash. This disease is also known as “the fifth disease” because historically, it was one of the five most common childhood illnesses characterized by a bright red facial rash. In most cases of younger children, parvovirus infection is mild and requires little treatment, however, in some adults; the infection can be more serious. In the cases of pregnant women with parvovirus infection, the disease can lead to severe health problems for the fetus.
Most people with parvovirus infection have no signs orsymptoms. When symptoms do appear, they can vary depending on the age of the individual who has the disease.
In children, signs and symptoms of parvovirus infection may include:
- High temperature
- Stomach pain
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Bright red facial rash (can be itchy)
In adults, signs and symptoms of parvovirus infection may include:
- Joint soreness in the hands, wrists, knees and ankles that can last from days to weeks
- Joint swelling
The main cause of parvovirus infection is the human parvovirus B19. It is most common in children of a younger age that can contract the disease during outbreaks in the winter and spring months during the school year; however, anyone can contract the disease at anytime. The disease spreads from individual to individual, often through respiratory secretions and hand to hand contact and can also be spread through blood. A pregnant woman who is infected with the virus can pass it to her fetus.
Parvovirus infection is contagious and can spread at anytime; however, it is most transmittable in the week before the red facial rash appears. Once the rash appears, the disease is no longer considered contagious and the individual doesn’t need to be secluded.
Parvovirus infection can cause serious complications for individuals with anemia, a condition in which red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all the parts of the body, are used up faster than the bone marrow can replace them. The disease may stop the production of red blood cells and cause an individual with anemia to be a great risk. Individuals with sickle cell anemia are at particular risk. Parvovirus can also cause anemia and related complications in:
- Fetuses infected with parvovirus during pregnancy: The infection may affect the red blood cells in the fetus, which may lead to miscarriage or stillbirth.
- Individuals with weakened immune systems: The infection can trigger anemia in individuals who have an HIV infection, are receiving cancer treatments, or are using anti-rejection drugs after organ transplants, making them more susceptible to the disease.
Treatment options for parvovirus infection may include the following to help fight the infection:
- Self-care treatment at home
- Receiving blood transfusions
- Receiving immune globulin injections
There is no vaccine or medication to prevent human parvovirus infection. Once infected with the disease, an individual acquires lifelong immunity. A few recommendations to help reduce the chances of contracting the infection include:
- Frequent hand washing
- Avoiding sharing food or drinks
- Staying away from ill individuals who may be contagious (may have contracted the disease before developing the characteristic rash)