Five babies have died from the “fifth disease” in France since the beginning of the year. This number is unusually high compared to the pre-pandemic average of Covid-19 cases. The peak of the epidemic seems to have been reached, with a decrease in diagnoses in April and May. The infection, caused by parvovirus B19 (B19V), is commonly known as the “fifth disease” because it is the fifth viral infection that causes a rash in children.

Since the start of the year, five babies have died from this infection, a number that has not increased in April and May, but is still unusually high. The average annual number of deaths was 1.8 before the Covid-19 crisis, mostly affecting adults. However, in 2024, the five deaths were of children under one year old, including four newborns due to congenital infection.

Parvovirus B19 can cause a rash known as erythema infectiosum or fifth disease. The virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets and is usually mild, causing moderate fever, headache, runny nose, and a rash on the body in children. It can also cause a characteristic red rash on the cheeks, earning it the nickname “slapped cheek disease.”

While the infection is generally benign, it can have more serious consequences for immunocompromised individuals, those with chronic anemia, and pregnant women. If a pregnant woman contracts the virus, it can cross the placenta and infect the fetus, leading to fetal anemia, complications, miscarriage, or fetal death. The virus can also affect the fetal cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of heart problems after birth.

Health authorities recommend increased awareness among healthcare professionals about the risks for immunocompromised children and pregnant women, as well as the importance of avoiding contact with infected individuals. The current epidemic may be linked to a decrease in immunity due to reduced exposure to the virus, making the population more vulnerable to infection.

Other countries such as Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Norway are also experiencing an increase in parvovirus B19 infections. While the exact reasons for the epidemic are not yet clear, it could be related to the easing of public health measures during the pandemic, such as social distancing and lockdowns. This “immunity debt” means that people have had less exposure to the virus and are now more susceptible to it.

In conclusion, the recent spike in parvovirus B19 infections, particularly affecting children and pregnant women, highlights the importance of vigilance and preventive measures to control the spread of the disease. Health authorities are urging healthcare professionals and the public to stay informed and take necessary precautions to protect vulnerable populations from the impact of the epidemic.