What Is Adenovirus?

Adenovirus is a group of contagious viruses. Symptoms can be similar to a cold or pneumonia. Adenoviruses usually infect the respiratory tract.

Adenoviruses are viruses that usually infect the tissue lining of the respiratory tract. Depending on the type of infection, they can cause other illnesses, like gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, cystitis, and rashes. Overcrowding and stress during an Adenovirus infection can cause acute respiratory disease.


Symptoms of adenovirus infection can be similar to the common cold or even pneumonia, croup, and bronchitis. The signs and symptoms of adenoviral infections vary:

Febrile respiratory disease, an infection of the respiratory tract that includes a fever, is the most common. Other symptoms include inflammation of the pharynx, or sore throat, inflammation of nasal membranes, or a congested, runny nose, cough, swollen lymph nodes and illness similar to the flu. The infection can also cause bronchitis and in children under 3 years old, adenovirus can affect the lower respiratory tract, causing bronchiolitis, croup, or viral pneumonia.

Conjunctivitis (pinkeye) is an inflammation of the membranes that cover the eye and inner surfaces of the eyelids. Symptoms are red eyes, discharge, tearing, and a feeling that something is in the eye. Keratoconjunctivitis is a more severe infection that involves both the membranes and cornea.

Pharyngoconjunctival fever happens when adenovirus affects the lining of the eye and the respiratory tract. Symptoms are red eyes and a sore throat, sometimes with a fever, rhinitis, and swollen lymph nodes.

Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and the intestines, large and small. Wet diarrhea, vomiting, headache, fever, and stomach cramps accompany this variety. Adenovirus is sometimes linked to urinary tract infections, which causes urinary frequency, burning pain, or blood in the urine.

All types of adenovirus are transmitted by direct contact, fecal-oral and waterborne transmission. Some types can establish persistent infections in the tonsils, adenoids, and intestines.

Adenoviral infections usually affect infants and young children. Studies show that adenovirus accounts for up to 5% of acute respiratory infections in children and is often a cause of diarrhea. They are more prevalent in the winter, when children are often indoors with other children, as in school etc. Symptoms can develop from 2 days to 2 weeks after a child has been exposed to the virus.

Adenoviral infections typically last from a couple of days to a week. Severe respiratory infections can last longer and cause persistent symptoms, like a cough. Pneumonia can last from 2 to 4 weeks.

Adenovirus is highly contagious and is often caught in day cares, schools, hospitals, and camps. The adenovirus that causes respiratory and intestinal infections spreads through coughs and sneezes, fecal contamination, holding hands or sharing a toy with an infected person. The adenovirus that causes conjunctivitis is transmitted by water, by sharing contaminated objects, or by touch.

Adenoviral infections are difficult to prevent, as vaccines are not available. Parents and caregivers should encourage frequent hand washing, keep countertops and toys clean, and remove children with infections from group settings. Vaccines were developed for some types of adenovirus, but were available only to the military. Adequate chlorination of pools is necessary to prevent outbreaks of adenovirus conjunctivitis.

Most adenoviral conditions are also associated with other causes. Medical advice is needed if any of the following symptoms is present: Fever that continues for more than a few days, symptoms that get worse after a week, breathing problems, a child is under 3 months old, swelling and redness around the eye becoming severe or painful or child seems to be dehydrating.

Adenoviral illnesses may resemble bacterial infections but they are viral and antibiotics don't work against viruses. The doctor may want to test a sample of respiratory secretions, a stool specimen, or a blood or urine sample, depending on what he or she suspects is the cause. Adenoviral infections don't usually result in hospitalization. However, younger children may not drink enough fluids to replace what they lose by the vomiting or diarrhea. They may need to be hospitalized to prevent dehydration. Young infants with pneumonia are usually hospitalized.

Your child's body will fight the virus on its own. Since antibiotics don't help a viral infection, you just need to make him more comfortable. If your child has a respiratory infection or fever, rest and extra fluids are needed. A cool-mist vaporizer will help to loosen any congestion. The humidifier should be thoroughly cleaned every day to prevent mold and bacteria. Don't give any cold medications or cough syrup without first checking with the doctor. Use acetaminophen in case of fever and avoid aspirin due to its link with Reye's syndrome.


Gastroenteritis: inflammation of the stomach or intestine.

Conjunctivitis: inflammation of the transparent membrane which covers the eyeball.

Cystitis: inflammation of the bladder

Rhinitis: inflammation of the lining of the nose.


www.kidshealth.org The Nemours Foundation


Home Medical Dictionary, 1993, PSI and Associates

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