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Adenoviruses: Viruses that Affect Children and Adults

  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-01-27 (Rev. 2016-03-15) - There are over 50 types of adenoviruses that are all immunologically distinct from each other and have the potential to cause infections in people. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss.

Definition: Adenoviruses

Adenoviruses - A group of viruses that infect the membranes (tissue linings) of the respiratory tract, the eyes, the intestines, and the urinary tract - account for about 10% of acute respiratory infections in kids and are a frequent cause of diarrhea.

Main Document

"A vaccine against adenovirus types 4 and 7 was developed and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March of 2011, but its use was for United States Military Personnel only. The vaccine is not available to people in the general public."

Adenoviruses are common and can cause illness in both children and adults. While the majority of the illnesses people experience are not serious, adenoviruses cause respiratory illness most of the time. The viruses can also cause diarrhea, fever, bladder infection, rash illness, and pink eye.

Adenoviruses are medium-sized, non-enveloped icosahedral viruses with double-stranded DNA. There are greater than 50 types of adenoviruses that are all immunologically distinct from each other and have the potential to cause infections in people. The viruses are fairly resistant to both physical and chemical agents, as well as to adverse pH conditions, meaning they have the ability to live for an extended period of time outside of a person's body.

Anyone can experience an adenovirus infection.

People who have weakened immune systems, infants, or people who have cardiac disease or existing respiratory disease are at a higher risk of getting sick from an adenovirus infection. People may get infected with adenoviruses through close contact with another person who is infected, or with a person who is sick. A person can also become infected by touching objects or surfaces that have the adenovirus on them and then touching their nose, mouth, or eyes.

Adenoviruses are spread through person-to-person contact, to include through secretions that a person has coughed or sneezed into the air or onto their face or hands. Some types of adenoviruses are present in a person's bowels or stool. Someone who gets the viruses on their hands while they are using the bathroom or bathing may spread the viruses. Adenoviruses have the ability to transfer from one person's hands to another person's, and then into that person's mouth, eyes, or nose.

Children who are in childcare, particularly children between 6 months and 2 years old, have a higher risk of getting an adenovirus. Adenoviruses spread in both summer camps and schools for example. Occasionally, children might get an adenovirus from a swimming pool that has been contaminated, or by sharing a towel with another person who has been infected.

Symptoms of an Adenovirus Infection

The symptoms of an adenovirus infection are similar to the ones associated with a common cold. Children who are sick might experience a stuffy or runny nose, as well as a sore throat, infection of the breathing tubes in their lungs, eyelid inflammation, a fever, a middle ear infection, or pneumonia. Some children might have a harsh cough similar to the one with whooping cough.

At times there may be some bleeding into the covering of their swollen eyes. While the adenovirus might cause a person's eyes to look very ill, their vision remains unaffected. Children who are infected with some strains of the adenovirus develop inflammation of their stomach and intestinal tract, something that has the potential to cause abdominal cramping and diarrhea.

The adenovirus might infect a person's bladder, cause blood in their urine, and painful urination. On occasion, the virus causes an infection either in or around a person's brain. In children who have undergone an organ transplant, or who experience other conditions resulting in a weakened immune system, adenovirus infections are something that can be very severe and have the potential to result in overwhelming infection, or even death. After a child has been exposed to an adenovirus there is an incubation period of 2 to 14 days before they experience symptoms.

Fortunately, adenoviruses rarely cause serious illnesses or the death of a person who is infected.

The viruses cause a number of illness and symptoms that include:

  • Colds
  • Fever
  • Pink eye
  • Diarrhea
  • Bronchitis
  • Sore throat
  • Pneumonia
  • Neurologic disease
  • Bladder inflammation or infection
  • Inflammation of stomach and intestines

Some types of adenoviruses cause different illnesses; it depends upon the way a person is infected. As an example, breathing in adenovirus type 7 may cause severe lower respiratory tract illness. However, swallowing the same type of adenovirus usually doesn't cause disease or even mild illness. People may also have persistent adenovirus infections in their tonsils, intestines, or adenoids, yet experience no symptoms. A person who is infected may also, 'shed,' the virus for months or even years.

Diagnosing Adenovirus

Where children are concerned, a pediatrician will examine a child and make a diagnosis based upon the signs and symptoms they present. If the child's throat is inflamed, the pediatrician might check for strep. There are tests to detect for the adenoviruses, although there is no particular medicine to fight them, and it is usually not worthwhile to pursue a specimen or the costs associated with testing. If a child is extremely sick or has an underlying problem, a pediatrician might take a sample of their secretions from the child's eyes, throat, or other body regions for lab testing to identify an adenovirus. The pediatrician may also test the child's blood, stool, or urine.

Prevention & Treatment

A vaccine against adenovirus types 4 and 7 was developed and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March of 2011, but its use was for United States Military Personnel only. The vaccine is not available to people in the general public.

There are; however, some steps you can take to help protect yourself and other people from infection by adenoviruses. These steps include:

  • Staying home when you are sick
  • Not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Keep adequate levels of chlorine in swimming pools
  • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Frequent hand washing is especially important in childcare settings

Unfortunately, there is no specific form of treatment aimed at treating adenoviruses. The good news is that the majority of adenovirus infections are mild and usually only require treatment of the symptoms a person is experiencing. Adenovirus infections that are serious can only be managed by treating the symptoms the person is experiencing as well as any health complications they have due to the infection.



Related:

  1. The Human Immune System Simplified - An article about the Human Immune System that is somewhat more user-friendly than other more technical articles available.
  2. Sore Throat - Causes Symptoms and Treatment - A sore throat is a disease primarily located in the area around the tonsils it is also known as pharyngitis or tonsillitis.
  3. Zika Virus: Transmission & Prevention, Symptoms & Treatment - Thomas C. Weiss



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