Rise in cases of parvovirus B19 in Ireland and other European countries: public health advice


On 5th June 2024, ECDC published a Rapid Risk Assessment (RRA) to raise awareness of an increase in cases of parvovirus B19, particularly for groups at increased risk for complications from infection. These groups are pregnant women, people who are immunocompromised and those who have haemoglobinopathies e.g. sickle cell disease. The RRA includes actions that European Member States should take to address this situation. Please see ECDC website for further information.

In Ireland, we are also seeing indications of an increase. Because it is not a notifiable disease formal surveillance is not in place. See available information on HPSC.ie.

Parvovirus B19 is a common childhood infection, erythema infectiosum, also known as "slapped cheek “, syndrome or fifth disease. It usually is a mild self-limiting illness, presenting with symptoms such as fever, rash (more common in children), and joint pain, (more common in adults).  However, it can cause complications in pregnancy, in people who are immunocompromised or who have haemoglobinopathies e.g. sickle cell disease. For further information see factsheet on HPSC.ie.

Most people with parvovirus B19 are unlikely to be infectious to others after the rash develops and they can return to work/school. However, people with underlying immune or blood conditions may be infectious for longer periods of time. Immunity is lifelong. Approximately 60% of adults are immune.

To prevent spread of infection, the general public should wash hands frequently, cover coughs and sneezes and stay at home if sick. Respiratory hygiene posters are available to download from HPSC.ie. Those in vulnerable groups should avoid contact with sick persons where possible and seek prompt medical attention if they develop symptoms. Pregnant women who develop a rash at any point in their pregnancy or those who are asymptomatic but who have been exposed to a suspected case of parvovirus B19, should be investigated.

Pregnant women who work with young children under the age of six years have a slightly increased risk of infection, especially in the first years of their career, as they might not be immune. During outbreak periods, if not immune, their healthcare provider will advise on whether exclusion from work will be advised; in most circumstances this is not needed.

Advice and guidance are kept under active review.