Viruses are unique in that they can only replicate inside the cells of other organisms. Ubiquitous in the environment, these small, infectious particles cause many familiar diseases such as the common cold, the flu, and chickenpox. Depending on the type, they can lead to various symptoms, from sore throats to seizures. The adenovirus -- one of the most common families of viruses -- often causes respiratory illness. Fortunately, most infections are mild and self-limiting.
Adenoviruses are a group of common viruses that typically infect the membranes of the respiratory tract; however, they can also affect the eyes, urinary tract, nervous system, and intestines. Discovered in the early 1950s, they cause illnesses such as the common cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, and conjunctivitis. While most cases are mild, there is a possibility of severe disease, particularly in those with compromised immune systems.
While adenoviruses can infect people of all ages, infections are more common in babies and young children. Most will have experienced at least one bout of viral illness before the age of ten. Individuals with weakened immune systems or existing respiratory diseases are more susceptible to complications such as chronic lung disease and severe infections.
Adenovirus infections are typically mild with few symptoms. While it affects individuals in different ways, some of the most common symptoms include fever, sore throat, severe cough, headache, runny nose, swollen lymph nodes, and difficulty breathing. If the virus infects the intestinal tract, people may experience watery diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal swelling, and general pain.
For respiratory infections, symptoms may appear as early as two days after exposure to the virus; in some cases, it may take as long as two weeks. Symptoms tend to develop within three to ten days in the case of intestinal tract infections. While most adenovirus infections last three to five days, it is not uncommon for some to last over a week.
Droplets from an infected person's sneeze or cough are the most common transmitters of adenoviruses. In addition, they can spread via contact with a surface that houses the virus -- they can survive for seven days to three months on inanimate surfaces such as doorknobs, keyboards, and elevator buttons. Depending on the subtype, the virus may also be spread through the fecal-oral route; this typically occurs from ingestion of contaminated food or water or poor hand washing.
Diagnosis typically begins with a clinical evaluation of an individual's symptoms. From there, a doctor may choose to perform a nasal swab test by collecting a sample from the back of the nose and throat to identify the infective agent. A stool, blood, or urine sample can confirm the diagnosis.
Most adenovirus infections do not warrant specific treatment as the body tends to eradicate them on its own; in fact, the majority of cases are mild. However, medications may help relieve more painful or uncomfortable symptoms. For those who are immunocompromised, medical therapy may prevent severe infection. Depending on the severity of the symptoms, some patients require oxygen or intravenous fluids. It is important to note that antibiotics are not effective for adenovirus infections as they only kill bacteria -- not viruses.
Individuals with adenovirus infections should get plenty of rest. To avoid dehydration, it is also important to ensure adequate fluid intake. Over-the-counter medications can ease headaches and fever. Humidifiers, lozenges, and cough drops effectively relieve symptoms such as a sore throat or blocked nose.
Adenovirus infections are typically self-limiting. However, some cases do warrant a doctor visit. For instance, those experiencing a high or prolonged fever, eye pain, changes in vision, severe dehydration, still neck, severe headache, or difficulty breathing should contact their healthcare provider. People with compromised or less established immune systems, and all children under three months, should have medical care regardless of symptoms.
Unfortunately, adenovirus vaccines are currently only available for military personnel who are at a higher risk for infection. However, frequent hand-washing plays a large role in prevention, especially in childcare settings. To prevent the virus from entering the body, avoid touching the eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands. If possible, avoid close contact with individuals who are sick. Maintaining proper levels of chlorine in swimming pools is also important in preventing outbreaks of conjunctivitis the virus may cause.
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