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Sick with something? It could be adenovirus

What the heck?! If flu, colds, RSV and COVID weren’t enough, there’s a group of common viruses making the rounds in the Pacific Northwest and across the nation that cause an array of bugs – especially among kids.

Adenovirus infections have been around for eons, and they’re super sneaky because their symptoms often mimic other viruses.

The good news is that most cases of adenovirus are mild and don’t require special treatment. But they can be a big problem if you’re at risk for a serious infection or complications.


What is adenovirus and how serious is it?

Adenoviruses are a cluster of viruses that can cause illnesses throughout different parts of the body depending on where they land, including the airways and lungs, the lining of the eyes, intestines, urinary tract and nervous system.

Here are some fast facts about the family of bugs:

  • More than 50 distinct adenoviruses can cause infection in humans. Some strains are more severe than others.

  • Anyone of any age can catch adenoviruses, but infections are most common in children under the age of 5. This age group typically has infections that cause respiratory and gastrointestinal issues.

  • By the age of 10, most children have had one or more infections caused by an adenovirus.

  • Vulnerable populations are at higher risk of developing severe illness from an adenovirus infection, including:

    • Infants.
    • Older adults.
    • Those who have existing heart disease or chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma or COPD.

  • While viruses like the flu and RSV are seasonal, you can catch adenoviruses at any time of the year. Most cases peak in the winter and early spring.

  • Adenoviruses are especially resilient and can live on surfaces for long periods of time.

What are the symptoms of an adenovirus infection?

Because there are so many types of adenoviruses, there are also loads of symptoms caused by them. Some people with adenovirus infections show no symptoms at all.

Adenoviruses can be responsible for a variety of illnesses and symptoms, including:

Less commonly, the viruses can also cause bladder or urinary tract infections (UTIs). Common UTI symptoms are:

  • Frequent urination.
  • Burning or pain when urinating.
  • Blood in the urine.

In rare cases, adenovirus can cause conditions that affect the brain or spinal cord, such as meningitis or encephalitis. In these uncommon instances, symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Fever.
  • Headache.
  • Stiffness in the neck.

Adenovirus symptoms usually appear within 2 days to 2 weeks after exposure to the virus. Symptoms typically last from a few days to up to two weeks. Severe infections may last longer.


Is the adenovirus contagious?

Adenovirus is highly contagious and easily spread. They are most contagious during the first few days of symptoms. Some people, especially those with weakened immune systems, can carry the virus in their tonsils, adenoids or intestines for weeks or longer. Even when symptoms aren’t obvious, they can still spread the virus to others.

The most common ways of transmitting infections are through:

  • Close personal contact, such as shaking hands, kissing or hugging. Daycares and preschools are incubators for the bug, and infections are also very common among dorm-dwelling students and military personnel sharing close quarters.
  • The air. Respiratory droplets released through sneezes and coughs are easily transmitted to other people.
  • The virus can be spread when you touch your eyes, nose or mouth after touching contaminated objects or surfaces.
  • We know…yuck. But it’s important to know that adenovirus lurks in the stool (and full diapers) of those infected with it.

While less common, the virus can also be spread through water, such as swimming pools with too little chlorine.


Are there any long-term side effects from adenovirus?

In very rare cases, a child or other vulnerable person who gets pneumonia from an adenovirus infection may develop chronic lung disease or severe lung damage.


How are adenoviruses treated?

Just like other viruses, there is no specific treatment or approved antiviral remedy for people with adenovirus infection. Most symptoms are mild, and the body’s immune system will do the heavy lifting to fight the viral infection. Antibiotics are not used to treat adenovirus.

If you or your child are experiencing mild symptoms, plenty of rest and these go-to remedies will help ease discomfort.

  • Drink lots of liquids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take pain/fever reducers to relieve discomfort. Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are appropriate for children older than 6 months. Always avoid aspirin, which has been linked to Reye’s syndrome in children. The rare but dangerous condition can cause brain swelling and liver damage.
  • Use a cool-mist humidifiers to add moisture into the air and sooth dry airways and break up mucus.

If an infection is severe, hospitalization or antiviral treatment may also necessary.

CAUTION: Before you give your child cold medications, talk with a health care clinician. Some nonprescription cold medications are not recommended for young children.  


How can I reduce my risk of getting sick?

During the COVID pandemic, we learned a lot about how to prevent the spread of infection. Take these simple steps to keep bugs at bay.

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom or changing diapers.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

If you or a loved one gets sick, don’t spread the love. 

  • Stay home if you’re sick.
  • Keep your distance from others.
  • Sneeze and cough into your elbow or a tissue instead of your hand.
  • Avoid sharing eating utensils, dishes, towels and bedding.
  • Clean high-touch surfaces with bleach-based solutions.


Is there an adenovirus vaccine?

A vaccine designed to reduce the transmission of the adenovirus is approved only for U.S. military personnel (ages 17-50). The vaccine is not currently available to the public.

If you or someone you know is eligible for the vaccine, you can learn more about it on the CDC website.


Can adenovirus lead to hepatitis in children?

There’s been some buzz out there that we don’t want to ignore.

While adenovirus is recognized as a cause of hepatitis (inflammation of the liver) among children who have a weakened immune system, it is not typical for the virus to cause hepatitis in otherwise healthy children.

That said, the CDC is investigating a possible link between previously healthy children with hepatitis and adenovirus. The nationwide probe was prompted after five pediatric patients in Alabama were diagnosed with hepatitis in 2021. While the cause of the illnesses is still unknown, adenovirus was detected in some of the children. The CDC is also looking at other infections and factors to determine the cause.

You can learn more about the investigation on the CDC website.


Should I see a clinician if my child or I have symptoms of adenovirus?

Most adenovirus infections are mild and will go away on their own without treatment.

You should seek medical care if:

  • Your symptoms are severe or aren’t getting better.
  • You have a fever that doesn’t respond to over-the-counter remedies.
  • You have an underlying condition that puts you at high risk for severe infection and complications.
  • Your symptoms last longer than two weeks.

Lab testing for adenovirus is seldom done because most people have mild or no symptoms. Testing may be ordered if you have severe illness or pneumonia.


Indigo is here to treat your mild adenovirus symptoms

Even mild symptoms can sometimes be worrying, especially in little ones. From colds and flu – and the bugs that mimic them – to sprains and strains, Indigo is here to treat most minor illnesses and injuries. Simply walk in to one of our convenient neighborhood locations or book an appointment online.

When a trek to a clinic isn’t comfortable or convenient, you can also schedule an online care appointment and be seen by a one of our friendly clinicians from the comfort of your home, couch or wherever you are.

Either way, we’re here every day from 8 am to 8 pm, including holidays and weekends.

You should go to your nearest emergency department if your child – or anyone at risk of severe adenovirus infection – has any of these symptoms:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • High fever (greater than 104o or fever lasting longer than 5 days)
  • Signs of dehydration (decrease in wet diapers)
  • Confusion.

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