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Microbiology, epidemiology, and pathogenesis of parvovirus B19 infection

Jeanne A Jordan, PhD
Section Editors
Martin S Hirsch, MD
Morven S Edwards, MD
Deputy Editor
Allyson Bloom, MD


The Parvoviridae family contains two subfamilies: Parvovirinae, which infect mammals and birds, and Densovirinae, which infect arthropods. The Parvovirinae subfamily has been subdivided into five genera: Erythrovirus, Dependovirus, Parvovirus, Amdovirus, and Bocavirus. The focus here will be limited to Erythrovirus genera, and mainly to human parvovirus B19 (B19 prototype strain); only brief coverage will be given to the less common genotype 2 (prototype strain: LaLi) and genotype 3 (prototype strain: V9) genera within this subfamily [1].

Unless otherwise specified, parvovirus B19 will be the strain referred to when describing epidemiology and transmission, which are discussed in this topic. The spectrum of disease manifestations, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of parvovirus B19 are discussed elsewhere. (See "Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of parvovirus B19 infection" and "Treatment and prevention of parvovirus B19 infection".)


Classification — There are three genotypes within the Erythrovirus genus. Parvovirus B19 is the predominant parvovirus pathogen in humans and the prototype genotype 1 strain. Genotype 2 (prototype strain, LaLi) and genotype 3 (prototype strain, V9) are less common and more recently described [2-4]. Genotypes 1 and 2 are typically found in western countries (eg, US and Europe), while genotype 3 is found primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and South America [5], but is spreading. Compared with genotype 1, much less has been published on the transmission and epidemiology of genotype 2 and genotype 3. The nucleotide sequence differs among the three genotypes by 13 to 14 percent [4,6]. Not surprisingly, the divergence at the amino acid level among the three genotypes is significantly less than that seen at the nucleotide level.

Viral structure — Parvovirus B19 is a small (26 nm), non-enveloped, single stranded DNA (5.6-kb) virus. It is among the smallest of the DNA animal viruses. The linear genome encodes the following proteins:

Two viral capsid proteins: a minor structural protein VP1 (83 kDa) and a major structural protein VP2 (58 kDa). These are encoded by overlapping reading frames and are expressed during productive infection. The smaller VP2 protein constitutes 95 percent of the capsid while the larger VP1 protein makes up only 5 percent.


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Dec 15, 2014.
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