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Parvovirus infection


What is parvovirus?

Parvovirus, also called Human Parvovirus B19, is a very common virus that is spread easily from person to person. It causes an illness that is sometimes called “Fifth Disease.” Human Parvovirus B19 is different from the parvovirus infection that dogs can get.

What are the symptoms of parvovirus?

Parvovirus infection can cause many different symptoms including fever, cold symptoms, joint pains, and red rash on the cheeks (often called “slapped cheek”).  Sometimes, the rash can spread to other parts of the body. Parvovirus can also cause an aplastic crisis in people with sickle cell disease and other red blood cell diseases. People with sickle cell disease often do not have the rash.

How does parvovirus cause an aplastic crisis?

In most people, red blood cells live about 4 months. However, red blood cells in people with sickle cell disease and other red blood cell diseases only live about 2 weeks. Parvovirus can shut down the body’s ability to make new red blood cells for about 7–10 days. In a person with sickle cell disease or another disease of abnormal red blood cells, when the body cannot make new red blood cells because of a parvovirus infection, the blood counts can drop to low levels. This aplastic crisis causes severe anemia (too few red blood cells in the body). During an aplastic crisis, your child may look pale and feel weak or more tired than usual. Your child may also have fever, a fast heartbeat, or feel short of breath.

How is parvovirus treated?

There is no medicine to make the virus go away. Fortunately, it will go away on its own in about 10 days, and the body will make new red blood cells again. If the blood count drops too low during an aplastic crisis, a blood transfusion will be needed.

Who can get parvovirus?

The virus spreads easily, and anyone who comes in contact with the virus could get sick. The virus can be harmful to the unborn baby of a pregnant woman. If you have parvovirus, you should stay away from others with sickle cell disease or other red blood cell diseases, persons with low immune systems, and pregnant women. It is always a good idea to stay away from people who have colds or other infections and to wash your hands often. This can stop the spread of infection.

How do I know if my child has parvovirus?

If your child has any of the symptoms listed above, your child should be seen by a doctor. The doctor can check your child’s blood count and reticulocyte count (which measures how many new red blood cells are being made). A parvovirus test also may be done, but the results may not come back for several days.

Once my child has had an aplastic crisis, can it happen again?

It is very rare for an aplastic crisis to happen more than one time. Most people only get sick from parvovirus once in their lifetime. 


If you have questions please talk to a member of the hematology team. If your child has sickle cell disease or another red blood cell disease and is having an aplastic crisis, call your child’s nurse case manager or after hours call the main operator at (901) 595-3300 or toll-free 1-866-2STJUDE (1-866-278-5833) and ask for the hematology doctor on call. If you are unable to contact the nurse case manager or hematology doctor go to the emergency room.


This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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