What is an Adenovirus Infection?

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Adenoviruses are a family of viruses. These may cause infections in humans as well as animals. The most common infections caused by adenoviruses are respiratory tract infections.

What are the symptoms of adenovirus infection?

Adenovirus often infects the airways and the intestinal tract. An infection usually manifests with symptoms similar to a common cold. There is a sore throat, runny nose and eyes, sneezing, headaches, cough and fever.

In some persons infection with adenovirus may also cause croup or bronchitis. Some infections may also lead to conjunctivitis (pink-eye), skin rash, diarrhea and bladder infections.

Incubation period

For an airway infection it takes around 2 to 14 days for the symptoms to appear after exposure to the virus. This is called the incubation period. For intestinal infections the incubation period is 3 to10 days.

How long does adenovirus infection last?

The illness commonly does not last beyond three to five days and may last a week. Serious infections may debilitate a person for a couple of weeks.

Complications of adenovirus infection

Some persons with a poor immunity are prone to develop complications due to adenovirus infection.

Common but serious complications include lung infection or pneumonia, middle ear infection or otitis media and brain infections or meningitis.

Who can be affected with adenovirus?

Adenovirus may affect any person. In a healthy person the infection is usually mild and resolves on its own within a week.

Those with an immature or weak immune system are more at risk of severe complications. This includes young children and infants, elderly, pregnant women and those with a suppressed immunity (HIV AIDS patients, those on cancer chemotherapy drugs or immunosuppressant drugs after organ transplants etc.).

Outbreaks are common among those living in closed quarters like prisons, schools, hostels etc.

How does adenovirus spread?

Spread may occur in two manners. The virus can be carried in airborne droplets that are released when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

This virus may also survive for long durations on objects. This spread is also possible if the objects used by an infected person are touched or an infected person handles food or other items used by un-infected persons.

Infection can also spread by touching the eyes, nose, or mouth with contaminated hands that have not been washed well. Drinking from contaminated water sources may also spread the infection.

Diagnosis and treatment of adenovirus infection

Usually symptoms are used to diagnose adenovirus infections. There are however laboratory serological tests that help in the diagnosis of adenovirus infections. These tests are useful during outbreaks of this infection.

There is no adenovirus-specific therapy and the infection usually resolves by itself. Complications however may be treated with specific antibiotic therapy.

Patients with uncomplicated infections are usually advised bed rest, isolation, good hygiene (to prevent spread), over-the-counter fever relieving medicine (e.g. Acetaminophen/Paracetamol) and plenty of fluids.

In case of a severely blocked or runny nose cool-mist humidifiers and an airway dilator medication may be advised.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Apr 17, 2013

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