Adenoviruses are a group of common viruses that cause upper respiratory infections, with symptoms that may mimic the flu or common cold. These viruses can also infect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, the urinary tract, the lining of the eyes and, more rarely, the nervous system. People of all ages may be infected with adenovirus, but the infection is especially common in children—particularly those who spend time in group settings like daycare or school. Respiratory and GI issues are the most common types of symptoms seen in children infected with adenovirus.
Respiratory symptoms include runny nose, cough, sore throat, swollen glands, and croup-like symptoms such as hoarseness, wheezing and a high-pitched voice. GI symptoms may include diarrhea, stomach cramps or pain, and vomiting. Both groups of symptoms also may be accompanied by chills, fever or body aches. Most cases of adenovirus infection are mild, manifesting with symptoms similar to those of the common cold, but in some cases the infection can be severe and even fatal—particularly in younger children with asthma or other respiratory problems, and in people with compromised immune systems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Like the influenza virus that causes the flu, adenoviruses are spread through contact with respiratory droplets that are either airborne (following an infected person’s cough or sneeze) or deposited on surfaces. People also can get adenovirus from touching their face or eating after changing a diaper or using the bathroom without washing their hands first.
There is no specific treatment for adenovirus, but supportive care can help relieve symptoms until the body clears the infection. As with any type of viral infection, prevention is key. People who want to avoid getting adenovirus infection should wash their hands frequently; avoid touching their eyes, mouth or nose with unwashed hands; and stay away from those who are showing symptoms. To avoid spreading infection, those with adenovirus should wash their hands frequently, cover their coughs and sneezes, and stay away from others.