What to Know About Adenovirus Infections
Adenovirus infections typically go away without treatment. Symptoms can be more serious in children and people with weakened immune systems.
Read on to learn more about adenovirus and how you can limit its spread. This article will also explain how researchers use adenovirus for gene therapy and to make vaccines.
Adenovirus is a common virus that causes colds and other respiratory infections. Adenovirus can also infect the bladder and central nervous system, but this is not common.
Adenoviruses can affect both adults and children, but those between the ages of 6 months to 2 years are often more likely than other age groups to get adenovirus. However, most adenovirus infections do not cause symptoms.
You can get this virus any time of the year, and in general, most children get at least one infection by the time they turn 10.
- Types 3, 4, and 7: These cause acute respiratory illnesses like colds. Types 4 and 7 can also cause viral conjunctivitis.
- Type 14: It is responsible for causing outbreaks of acute respiratory illnesses in the United States, especially among people in the military.
- Types 8, 19, 37, 53, and 54: These cause inflammation of the conjunctiva and cornea.
- Types 40 and 41: These cause gastroenteritis in children. Learn more about viral gastroenteritis.
Adenovirus in adults
Adults may experience:
- common cold
- bronchitis, commonly known as a “chest cold”
- conjunctivitis, commonly known as pink eye
- viral gastroenteritis
Fever is possible with adenovirus infection but is not as common in adults as in infants and young children.
Adenovirus in infants
Adenoviruses in children can cause:
Infants and young children may:
- experience more fussiness and irritability than usual
- not nurse or eat as much as usual
- breathe noisily and more quickly
- develop a fever
- have swollen lymph nodes
Symptoms appear 2–14 days after a person contracts the virus. Intestinal tract infection symptoms may be noticeable 3–10 days after exposure.
Adenovirus symptoms and illnesses last 7–14 days.
Adenoviruses are highly contagious, mostly during the first few days of symptoms. They can spread through:
- the air after someone coughs or sneezes
- touch, such as touching an object with the virus on it
- close physical contact
- stool, such as when changing diapers
- water, less commonly
The virus may remain longer in people with weakened immune systems.
Adenovirus outbreaks are possible and more likely to occur when people live or work together in crowded or closed places.
Doctors do not typically run tests to determine if adenovirus is the underlying cause of symptoms unless:
- symptoms are severe or persist longer than anticipated for a cold or bronchitis, for example
- another health concern is present, such as chronic illness
- a doctor reports a cluster of infections to a local or public health department
Physicians do not have to test for or report adenovirus infections to the health department, explains the CDC. However, adenoviruses can cause infection clusters, or outbreaks. The CDC encourages doctors to report unusual clusters of infections that adenovirus may cause. These include respiratory infections and conjunctivitis.
Adenovirus hepatitis outbreak
The CDC recommends that doctors test children for adenovirus if they have hepatitis and test negative for hepatitis virus. The organization is investigating the relationship between the two illnesses.
Adenovirus vs. coronavirus
Both adenoviruses and coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections and spread through direct contact or respiratory droplets.
However, adenovirus is not known to cause loss of sense of smell, which links with SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
The only way to know for sure if symptoms are due to adenovirus versus coronavirus is through testing. Many health clinics test for SARS-CoV-2.
The CDC explains there are no antiviral medications specific for adenovirus. You may opt for home remedies or take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to relieve symptoms.
Most adenovirus symptoms go away on their own without treatment. However, these tips can help aid recovery in both adults and children:
- staying hydrated
- using sterile saltwater (saline) nasal spray to relieve congestion
- applying cool compresses for conjunctivitis
Your doctor may recommend these OTC medications to relieve symptoms:
- acetaminophen to help reduce pain and fever
- nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, which can also lower pain and fever
- antiemetic drugs, such as bismuth subsalicylate, to reduce vomiting or nausea
Prescription medications may include corticosteroids and bronchodilators to help with breathing.
Hospital care may be necessary for a severe adenovirus infection.
Antibiotics are not helpful for adenovirus infections. Antibiotics work on bacteria, not viruses. If your clinician thinks there could be a bacterial infection, they may run tests and prescribe antibiotics.
Adenovirus infections can be severe sometimes. This is more likely in people with weakened immune systems. People with a greater likelihood of an adenovirus complication include those who:
- have had a bone marrow transplant or chemotherapy treatment
- experience HIV
- take medications that suppress the immune system
Worldwide, some documented complications include:
Some home care tips may help limit its spread:
- Avoid close physical contact with people who do not feel well.
- Cough and sneeze in a tissue and throw it away.
- Clean your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds.
- Refrain from touching your mouth, eyes, and nose with unwashed hands.
- Use your own cups and eating utensils.
An adenovirus vaccine is available for individuals who work in the military in the United States. It provides protection against illnesses that adenovirus types 4 and 7 can cause. The adenovirus vaccine can help prevent outbreaks.
Scientists have studied adenovirus for a long time. Over the years, they have discovered that they can use it to prevent and treat other diseases.
Adenovirus as a vector vaccine
Experts use adenovirus to make vaccines for other infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
The Johnson and Johnson and Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccines use the DNA present in adenovirus, explains the Infectious Disease Society of America. Researchers remove some of the genetic material from a virus and replace it with a gene that makes part of SARS-CoV-2.
The modified adenovirus shell, known as a “vector,” can get inside human cells, but it can’t replicate or cause infection. Still, the cells make the SARS-CoV-2 protein and the immune system creates antibodies against it.
Adenovirus gene therapy
Gene therapy is a technique in which experts combine a gene with adenovirus to treat, prevent, or cure an illness. The vector carries a healthy human gene to replace a missing or damaged one. This technique has had some success with disease treatment. Gene therapy may work for cancer, too.
Adenovirus infections are common in adults and children. They usually affect the upper respiratory system or cause conjunctivitis. These viruses tend to cause more serious illnesses in those with weakened immune systems.
There is no specific adenovirus treatment but various OTC medications can help relieve symptoms.
You can get adenovirus any time of the year. You can limit the spread of adenovirus by practicing good handwashing techniques and avoiding close physical contact with people if you or they are feeling unwell.