Your Blood Group Can Predict Your Risk of Contracting This Incredibly Common Viral Disease

Virus Illustration

Parvovirus B19 is a relatively common viral infection, especially in children. It is estimated that up to 50% of people have been infected with Parvovirus B19 at some point in their lives, although many people may not have developed symptoms or were unaware that they were infected. The virus is more commonly transmitted during the spring and winter months and is most commonly associated with mild illness, such as fifth disease, which causes a characteristic red rash on the face. However, in some cases, the virus can cause more serious complications, particularly in people with compromised immune systems or underlying health conditions.

According to a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases conducted by researchers from the Karolinska Institute in collaboration with Octapharma, people with blood group Rh(D) are at an increased risk of parvovirus infection.

Fifth disease, a viral illness caused by parvovirus, is most commonly seen in school-age children and is characterized by red blotches on the cheeks that can also spread to the arms and legs. While adults can also be infected with the virus, many do not show any symptoms.

In a new study, researchers can now demonstrate that the risk of contracting the disease is elevated if the person belongs to the blood group Rhesus D antigen or what is called Rh(D). In addition to the blood typing in the AB0 system, the Rh system is the most common.

All infected belonged to Rh(D)

More than 160,000 blood donors in Germany were screened for parvovirus between 2015 and 2018. Of the blood donors, 22 people were infected with the virus. All infected persons belonged to the blood group Rh(D).

“It is a significant finding that has not yet been described that could mean that Rh(D) is important when the virus enters the host cell and also may be a new, as of yet unidentified cellular receptor for the virus,” says Rasmus Gustafsson, affiliated researcher at the Department of Clinical Neuroscience at Karolinska Institute and project manager at Octapharma.

Women were over-represented

The researchers were also able to see that the risk of infection was elevated during the summer months. In addition, women as well as people aged 31 to 40 have an increased risk of infection.

“At that age, there are usually toddlers around. We already know that young children get infected in preschool and then infect their parents. So, the age and gender distribution can be a reflection of the fact that women to a greater extent than men work in the care professions and look after children,” says Rasmus Gustafsson.

Reference: “Prevalence of Parvovirus B19 Viremia Among German Blood Donations and the Relationship to ABO and Rhesus Blood Group Antigens” by Katie Healy, Linda B S Aulin, Urban Freij, Marie Ellerstad, Lena Brückle, Helen Hillmering, Tor-Einar Svae, Kristina Broliden and Rasmus Gustafsson, 21 November 2022, The Journal of Infectious Diseases
DOI: 10.1093/infdis/jiac456

The study was conducted in collaboration with the company Octapharma, where several of the co-authors are active.

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