Several infectious agents may cause arthritis or arthropathy. For example, infection with Borrelia burgdorferi, the etiologic agent of
Lyme disease, may in the late phase manifest as arthropathy. Infections with Campylobacter, Salmonella, or Yersinia may result in a postinfectious reactive arthritis. Acute infection with parvovirus B19 (B19V) may likewise initiate transient or chronic arthropathy. All these conditions may be clinically indistinguishable from rheumatoid arthritis. Here, we present evidence that acute B19V infection may elicit IgM antibodies that are polyspecific or cross-reactive with a variety of bacterial antigens. Their presence may lead to misdiagnosis and improper clinical management, exemplified here by two case descriptions. Further, among 33 subjects with proven recent B19V infection we found IgM enzyme immunoassay (EIA) positivity for Borrelia only; for Borrelia and Salmonella; for Borrelia and Campylobacter; and for Borrelia, Campylobacter, and Salmonella in 26 (78.7%), 1 (3%), 2 (6%), and 1 (3%), respectively; however, when examined by Borrelia LineBlot, all samples were negative. These antibodies persisted over 3 months in 4/13 (38%) patients tested. Likewise, in a retrospective comparison of the results of a diagnostic laboratory, 9/11 (82%) patients with confirmed acute B19V infection showed IgM antibody to Borrelia. However, none of 12 patients with confirmed borreliosis showed any serological evidence of acute B19V infection. Our study demonstrates that recent B19V infection can be misinterpreted as secondary borreliosis or enteropathogen-induced reactive arthritis. To obtain the correct diagnosis, we emphasize caution in interpretation of polyreactive IgM and exclusion of recent B19V infection in patients examined for infectious arthritis or arthropathy.