Adenovirus – What is It?

Adenovirus - What is It? | Dr. Ali Ghahary

A recent Adenovirus outbreak has killed 7 children in New Jersey and has sickened an additional 11 according to the state’s health department. While fatalities as a result of adenovirus are very rare, health officials say that this particular strain of the virus seems to be impacting those with severely compromised immune systems, making it much more difficult to treat.

Rather than one type of illness, adenovirus is a combination of common viruses that can affect your airway, lungs, eyes, intestines, urinary tract, and even nervous system. These viruses include everything from the common cold to pneumonia, bronchitis, coup, pink eye, ear infections, UTIs (bladder infections), stomach or intestinal infections, meningitis, and encephalitis. As a result of these types of viruses and infections, you can experience everything from a high fever to a sore throat, coughing, runny or congested nose, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stiff neck, and headaches. These symptoms can range from mild to severe. As mentioned, adenovirus can also be worse in those who happen to have weakened immune systems as well as pre-existing respiratory or cardiac disease, and it commonly affects more children than adults. In fact, one child will have had at least some form of an adenovirus by the time they reach the age of 10.

Just like the common cold or flu, adenovirus can be very contagious. It can be spread as a result of someone who is infected sneezing or coughing, or a child can catch the virus simply by using a toy that has been held by another child with the virus, and then by touching their eyes, nose or mouth. Because children are much more likely to put their hands on their face or in their mouths, they are much more likely to catch this type of illness. While adenovirus is rare in adults, one can get infected simply by changing a diaper, or they can also develop adenovirus from eating food that has been prepared by someone who did not properly wash their hands. While unlikely, it is also possible to catch adenovirus as a result of swimming in pools that have not been properly maintained. To avoid developing adenovirus, prevention is key. That means practicing good hygiene, staying away from anyone you know who’s sick, and keeping surfaces like counters, desks, and sinks as clean and germ-free as possible.

If you or your child are exhibiting any of the aforementioned symptoms, the first thing you need to do is go to see your family physician. If you do not have a family physician, then you should go to the nearest walk-in clinic. From there, a physician may perform a physical exam as well as run certain tests to determine whether the illness is simply viral or bacterial in nature. These include blood tests, urine tests, stool tests, a throat or nose swab, and even x-rays. If the illness is a result of bacteria, then antibiotics will be required. If the infected individual has a weak immune system, they may need to be monitored in hospital. However, in most cases adenovirus is viral and will not get better with antibiotics. In order to get better, you should make sure that your child is kept hydrated with water, while medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help bring down a fever. Things like saline spray and cool-mist humidifiers can also help to relieve congestion and allow your child to breathe more easily. If symptoms worsen, or if your child starts to develop swelling around their eyes or has trouble breathing, then they should be seen at their nearest emergency room.