What Is Parvovirus?

Viral Illness That May Cause Miscarriage

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Parvovirus is a virus that causes fifth disease. Many pregnant women have immunity from the disease and do not pass it onto their babies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost half of pregnant women are immune to parvovirus B19. 

Pregnant women without immunity don’t usually develop serious symptoms. Neither do their babies. The CDC explains that a severe parvovirus infection that leads to miscarriage occurs in less than 5% of pregnancies.

Fifth disease can also occur in children and adults, though it’s more common in school-age children. It’s a very contagious virus but usually produces mild symptoms.

Parvovirus Symptoms

Verywell / Katie Kerpel

Symptoms of Parvovirus

Some signs and symptoms of a parvovirus infection include:

The facial rash that occurs with a parvovirus infection is the most apparent symptom. It usually shows up within four to 14 days of infection. A rash can also sometimes appear elsewhere on the body. The rash may be itchy and painful.

Some people never develop any symptoms after contracting parvovirus. However, asymptomatic people can still pass it onto others.

Causes

Fifth disease develops when a person is infected with parvovirus B19, or human parvovirus—which is different from parvovirus that affects animals.

The disease is very contagious and is transmissible via:

  • Saliva
  • Sputum
  • Nasal mucus

Airborne droplets produced by sneezing or coughing can spread the disease from person to person. A pregnant person with parvovirus can also spread it via the placenta to their baby.

Fifth disease gets its name because, historically, it appeared fifth on a list of common childhood diseases that produced skin rashes.

Diagnosis

If you are pregnant and suspect you have come into contact with parvovirus, you should see your healthcare provider right away. A practitioner will usually perform a physical exam to diagnose parvovirus. However, if you are pregnant, your medical professional will likely order a blood test.

While a blood test will confirm if you have parvovirus, antibody testing can determine whether a person has ever come into contact with parvovirus and has immunity.

However, a healthcare provider is more likely to perform a viral detection test rather than an antibody test if you are pregnant and suspected of having parvovirus. Viral detection testing may require additional samples such as amniotic fluid or fetal cord blood.

Treatment

In most cases, parvovirus goes away on its own. However, because there is a risk for miscarriage in pregnant people, it’s essential to see a healthcare provider who can monitor the situation. There is no vaccine or cure for parvovirus infection.

A practitioner may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) drugs to help relieve joint pain and other flu-like symptoms. If you are pregnant, don’t take any medications without first speaking to your pharmacist or healthcare provider.

In severe parvovirus infection, IV immune globulin therapy may be considered, in which the patient is administered antibodies to the virus.

Complications

Pregnant woman are more likely to miscarry because of parvovirus in the first half of their pregnancy. However, parvovirus-related miscarriage is fairly rare. If a baby contracts parvovirus in the womb, it may be at higher risk for a condition called hydrops fetalis.

What is Hydrops Fetalis?

Hydrops fetalis affects fetuses or newborns. It’s a serious condition that causes extreme levels of fluid buildup and swelling that can impact organ function. Healthcare providers may request that pregnant patients with parvovirus receive frequent ultrasounds to check for complications like hydrops fetalis.

A Word From Verywell 

If you are pregnant and think you have parvovirus, be assured that, in most cases, a parvovirus infection will not have serious complications. Let your healthcare provider know if you have come into contact with someone who has fifth disease. They will test you to determine if you have an infection.

You may be immune to parvovirus—about 50% of pregnant people have immunity already. If testing confirms that you have a parvovirus infection, your practitioner will likely monitor you and your baby.

Most of the time, the virus doesn’t cause serious symptoms in the pregnant person or baby. In a small percentage of cases, miscarriage is possible, but it’s unlikely. 

If you find out you have parvovirus, be careful because it’s very contagious. Be sure to wash your hands regularly and stay away from people with compromised immune systems. 

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8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parvovirus B19 and fifth disease. Updated November 26, 2019.

  2. Cedars Sinai. Fifth disease in children

  3. Cleveland Clinic. Parvovirus infection. September 28, 2017.

  4. Spokane Regional Health District. Fifth disease & pregnancy

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Fifth disease. Updated November 26, 2019.

  6. Cleveland Clinic. Parvovirus infection. September 28, 2017.

  7. Perez EE, Orange JS, Bonilla F, Chinen J, Chinn IK, Dorsey M, El-Gamal Y, Harville TO, Hossny E, Mazer B, Nelson R, Secord E, Jordan SC, Stiehm ER, Vo AA, Ballow M. Update on the use of immunoglobulin in human disease: A review of evidence. J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2017 Mar;139(3S):S1-S46. doi:10.1016/j.jaci.2016.09.023

  8. MedlinePlus. Hydrops fetalis. Updated May 17, 2019.