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Adenovirus Infections

What are adenoviruses?

Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that typically cause respiratory illnesses, such as a common cold, conjunctivitis (an infection in the eye also called pink eye), croup, bronchiolitis, or pneumonia. In children, adenoviruses usually cause infections in the respiratory tract and intestinal tract.

Adenovirus infections may occur in children of any age. However, children ages 6 months to 2 years who attend childcare may be more likely to become ill with these viruses. Respiratory infections are most common in the late winter, spring, and early summer. But these infections can occur anytime throughout the year. Adenovirus infections of the digestive tract are more common in children under the age of 5. Most children have had at least one form of this infection by age 10.

How are adenoviruses spread?

These are the most common ways adenoviruses are spread from person to person:

  • Respiratory infections. Fluid from the respiratory tract (nose, mouth, throat, and mouth) may contain the virus. Respiratory infections are spread when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes on another person. It can also be spread by touching an object that is contaminated by the virus. The virus can live for many hours on objects, such as doorknobs, hard surfaces, and toys.

  • Intestinal tract infections. The form of the virus that affects the digestive tract is usually spread by fecal-oral contact. Usually this is because of poor hand washing or from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

What are the symptoms of adenovirus infections?

Most adenovirus infections are mild with few symptoms. This chart shows the most common symptoms of adenovirus infections:

Respiratory infections (symptoms may develop 2 to 14 days after exposure)

Intestinal tract infections (symptoms may develop 3 to 10 days after exposure); symptoms usually occur in children younger than 5 years and may last 1 to 2 weeks.

Symptoms of a common cold--runny nose

Watery diarrhea that starts suddenly

Sore throat

Fever

Fever

Tender abdomen

Severe cough

Vomiting

Swollen lymph nodes

 

Headache

 

Feeling uneasy

 

"Pink eye"

 

The symptoms of adenoviruses may look like other medical conditions or problems. Always see your child's healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is an adenovirus infection diagnosed?

Usually, testing for adenovirus is only needed for severely ill children or those with an underlying medical problem. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, tests for adenoviruses may include:

  • Blood work

  • Testing eye, nasal, or throat swab

  • Testing stool samples

  • Chest X-ray

What is the treatment for adenovirus infections?

Treatment for adenovirus infections is aimed at relieving the symptoms. Antibiotics are not used to treat adenoviruses.

Treatment for respiratory infection may include:

  • Increased fluid intake. It's very important to encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids. If necessary, your child will get an intravenous (IV) line to give fluids and electrolytes.

  • Bronchodilator medicines. Bronchodilators may be used to open your child's airways. They are often given in an aerosol mist by a mask or through an inhaler.

  • Supplemental oxygen through a mask, nasal prongs, or an oxygen tent

  • Mechanical ventilation. A child who becomes very ill may need to be put on a breathing machine (ventilator or a respirator) to help with breathing.

Treatment for intestinal infection may include:

  • Oral rehydration. Oral rehydration with water, formula, breast milk or special electrolyte-containing fluids (fluids containing a careful balance of sugars and salts) is important. Do not use soda, juices, or sports drinks to rehydrate very young children.

Continue feeding your child solid foods if they are able to tolerate them. Some children may develop severe enough dehydration to require hospitalization. For these children, treatment may include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids

  • Tube feedings. A small tube is placed through the nose into your child's stomach so that formula or fluids may be given.

  • Blood tests. This is done to measure your child's electrolyte levels--sugar, salt, and other chemicals in the blood.

How can infections with adenoviruses be prevented?

To help prevent the spread of adenoviruses to others:

  • Wash your hands using soap and water and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Rinse well and air dry or use a clean towel.

  • Use a tissue and cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough

  • Avoid close contact with someone who is sick

  • Encourage frequent hand washing in child care settings

If your child is in the hospital, healthcare workers may wear special isolation clothing, such as gowns, gloves, and masks when they enter your child's room.

What can be complications of adenovirus infections?

Certain complications may develop from an adenovirus infection. Talk with your child's healthcare provider for more information.

  • Children who get pneumonia from adenovirus may develop chronic lung disease. However, this is very rare.

  • Children with weak immune systems are at risk for more severe infection from adenoviruses.

  • A severe complication of intestinal adenovirus is intussusception. This is an intestinal blockage that occurs when one part of the intestine slides over another section like a telescope. This is an emergency and most often occurs in babies. The symptoms may include bloody stool, vomiting, abdominal swelling, knees flexed to chest, loud cries from pain, weakness, and lethargy.