Winter months bring attention to influenza. And while it’s important for parents to be familiar with the symptoms, treatment and complications of the flu, moms and dads should also be on the lookout for other viruses that strike this time of year.
What is Adenovirus?
Adenovirus infections peak in winter and spring; but unlike the flu, they remain common throughout the year. These viruses cause about 10 percent of all childhood fevers, and nearly every child has had at least one adenovirus infection by 10 years of age. The most common site of infection are cells lining the upper respiratory tract. Adenovirus can also invade the lungs and infect the eyes, stomach and intestines. Rarely, these viruses sneak past the immune system and strike the liver, heart or brain.
Adenovirus hijacks the inner-workings of cells, turning them into virus-producing factories. This serves to multiply the virus and spread infection, but eventually leads to cell destruction and an intense inflammatory response. There are over 60 human serotypes of adenovirus, so while you may form immunity against one type, there are plenty more waiting to strike again.
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of adenovirus depend on the site of infection. Since the upper respiratory tract is most common, kids usually present with fever, nasal congestion, cough and sore throat. Eye involvement brings conjunctivitis (also known as “pink eye”), and gastrointestinal infection leads to vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes all these symptoms are present during the same illness!
Fever from adenovirus is usually short-lived, but other symptoms can last a week or more. This is because even after the virus has been defeated, the body must clean up destroyed cells and make new ones. More serious adenovirus infections, including viral pneumonia and involvement of the liver (hepatitis), heart (myocarditis), or brain (meningitis and encephalitis), are RARE in healthy kids, but can become a life-threatening concern for young infants and those with weakened immune systems.
How is it diagnosed?
Many viruses cause symptoms similar to adenovirus. These illnesses tend to be mild, well-tolerated and treated the same. Since testing does not change the course of disease or impact its treatment, and since adenovirus tests are expensive and have limited availability, they are generally reserved for those admitted to the hospital with severe or complicated disease.
How is it treated?
Most adenovirus infections are self-limited. This means they get better on their own with time. Families can offer supportive care: lots of rest, plenty of fluids, nasal suctioning or nose blowing, humidifier in the bedroom and age/weight-appropriate doses of fever reducers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Still, it’s recommended your child see his/her doctor to verify the illness is caused by a virus and no complications, such as pneumonia, sinusitis or an ear infection have set in.
When adenovirus infects the eyes, antibiotic eyedrops may be used to prevent secondary bacterial infection, and gastrointestinal involvement may be treated with medication to control nausea and vomiting, along with fluids to prevent or treat dehydration.
Can it be prevented?
Adenovirus is a hearty microorganism. It remains viable on objects and surfaces for a long time, and alcohol-based sanitizers do not kill it. The virus is present in oral secretions, respiratory droplets, eye drainage and stool (where it can shed for weeks or months following infection). It transmits easily from one child to another, especially when kids are in close contact within daycare centers and classrooms. It also spreads without direct contact, with shopping carts, doorknobs, toys and play equipment common sources of contamination. This explains why adenovirus infection is common!
Kids should stay home when they have a fever, learn to cover coughs and keep hands away from eyes, nose and mouth. Frequent hand washing with soap and water, especially after using the restroom and prior to eating, will also lower the risk of acquiring adenovirus disease.
For more information on choosing urgent or emergency care for your child, click here.
Dr Mike Patrick is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine and Medical Director of Interactive Media for Nationwide Children's Hospital. Since 2006, he has hosted the award-winning PediaCast, a pediatric podcast for parents. Dr Mike also produces a national podcast for healthcare providers—PediaCast CME, which explores general pediatric and faculty development topics and offers free AMA PRA Category 1 Credit™ to listeners.
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