Human parvovirus B19 infection
Parvovirus B19 (B19 virus) was the first human parvovirus to be discovered, by chance in 1975 by the Australian virologist Yvonne Cossart. It gained its name because it was discovered in well B19 of a large series of petri dishes apparently numbered in this way. more...
Parovirus B19 is best known for causing a childhood exanthem called "fifth disease" (erythema infectiosum).
The B19 virus belongs to the Parvoviridae family of small DNA viruses. It is classified as Erythrovirus because of its capability to invade red blood cell precursors in the bone marrow.
The virus is spread by infected respiratory droplets. The secondary attack risk for exposed household persons is about 50%, and about half of that for classroom contacts.
B19 symptoms begins some six days after exposure and last about a week. Infected patients with normal immune systems are contagious before becoming symptomatic, but probably not after then.
Persons with B19 IgG antibodies are generally considered immune to recurrent infection, but reinfection is possible in a minority of cases. About half of adults are B19-immune due to a past infection.
A significant increase in the number of cases is seen every three to four years; the last epidemic year was 1998. Outbreaks can arise especially in nurseries and schools.
Parvovirus B19 causes an infection in humans only; cat and dog parvoviruses do not infect humans. In contrast with small animals, there is no vaccine available for human parvovirus B19.
Role in disease
After being infected, patients usually develop the illness after an incubation period of four to fourteen days. The disease commences with fever and malaise while the virus is most abundant in the bloodstream, and patients are usually no longer infectious once the characteristic rash of this disease has appeared.
Any age may be affected, although it is most common in children aged six to ten years.
In adults (and perhaps some children), parvovirus B19 can lead to a seronegative arthritis which is easily controlled with analgesics. Possibly up to 15% of all new cases of arthritis are due to parvovirus, and a history of recent contact with a patient and positive serology generally confirms the diagnosis. This arthritis does not progress to other forms of arthritis.
Although most patients have an arrest of erythropoiesis (production of red blood cells) during parvovirus infection, it causes worse problems in patients with sickle cell anemia, who are heavily dependant on erythropoeisis due to the reduced lifespan of the red cells. This is termed "aplastic crisis". It is treated with blood transfusion. Sickle-cell patients will probably be the first candidates for a parvovirus B19 vaccine when it is developed.
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