Background: Severe anemia (hemoglobin level, <50 g/L) is a major cause of death among young children, and it arises from multiple factors, including malaria and iron deficiency. We sought to determine whether infection with parvovirus B19 (B19), which causes the cessation of erythropoiesis for 3-7 days, might precipitate some cases of severe anemia.
Methods: Archival blood samples collected in the Wosera District of Papua New Guinea, from 169 children 6 months-5 years old with severe anemia and from 169 control subjects matched for age, sex, and time were tested for B19 immunoglobulin M (IgM) by enzyme immunoassay and for B19 DNA by nested polymerase chain reaction (PCR). A total of 168 separate samples from children in the Wosera District were tested for B19 IgG.
Results: A strong association between acute B19 infection (positive by both IgM and PCR) and severe anemia was found (adjusted odds ratio, 5.61 [95% confidence interval, 1.93-16.3]). The prevalence of parvovirus B19 IgG reached >90% in 6-year-olds.
Conclusions: B19 infections play a significant role in the etiology of severe anemia in this area of malarial endemicity. Given the high levels of morbidity and mortality associated with severe anemia in such regions, the prevention of B19 infection with a vaccine might be a highly effective public health intervention.