This study was designed to analyse the clinical and epidemiological data from human parvovirus B19 cases in a six-year study of rash diseases conduct in an urban area in Brazil (Niterói city area, State of Rio de Janeiro). A total of 673 patients with acute rash diseases were seen at two primary health care units and at a general hospital. A clotted blood sample was collected from all subjects at the time of consultation. Forty-nine per cent (330 cases) of the patients were negative for dengue, rubella and measles IgM or for low avidity IgG to HHV-6. Of these 330, 105 (31.8%) were identified as IgM positive to parvovirus B19 by using an antibody capture EIA. During the study period, three distinct peaks of parvovirus infection were detected, suggesting that the disease appears to cycle in approximately 4-5 years. B19 infection was characterized by variable combinations of fever, flu-like symptoms, arthropathy, and gastrointestinal symptoms. Frequency of fever and arthropathy was substantially higher in adults, 75% [chi2 (1 D.F.) = 11.39, p = 0.0007] and 62.5% [chi2 (1 D.F.) = 29.89, p = 0.0000], respectively. "Slapped-cheek" appearance and reticular or lace-like rash were seen in only 30.1% of the children. No adult presented this typical rash. The lack of the typical rash pattern in a large proportion of parvovirus B19 and the similarity of clinical manifestations to other rash diseases, specially to rubella, highlight the difficulty of diagnosing B19 infection on clinical grounds alone.