ID Consult

Adenovirus: More than just another viral illness


The mother of three looked tired and little worried. She wasn’t one to bring her kids to the pediatrician’s office with every minor illness, but her youngest had 3 days of fever, runny nose, cough, and little of her normal energy.

coughing child DavidWhalen/Thinkstock

The pediatrician entered the room and smiled sympathetically.

“We ran tests for flu and RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] and it’s neither of those so. ...”

“So it’s just a virus that we don’t routinely test for and it’s going to need to run its course,” the mother finished his sentence. She knew the drill.

Before the doctor could leave the room though, the mother had one more question. “You don’t think it could be adenovirus do you?”

Most years, influenza and RSV command center stage, and adenovirus is relegated to the wings. It is not so much lack of disease or morbidity, but rather lack of recognition. Yes, we all learned in medical school that it is a cause of epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, but many adenoviral infections are clinically indistinguishable from infections caused by other viruses. Common symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, and malaise – overlap with those caused by influenza. Like rhinovirus, adenovirus can cause common cold symptoms. Like RSV, it can cause bronchiolitis. Just like parainfluenza, it can cause croup. It can cause a pertussislike syndrome with prolonged cough, and enteric adenoviruses, especially types 40 and 41, cause gastroenteritis that mimics norovirus or rotavirus infection.

Testing for adenovirus is not readily available or routine in most pediatricians’ offices, and while many hospitals and reference labs offer adenovirus polymerase chain reaction testing as part of a comprehensive respiratory virus panel, the test can be expensive and unlikely to change management in most ambulatory patients. This makes it difficult to count the number of adenoviruses annually.

This winter though, adenovirus was in the news ... repeatedly. In November 2018, CBS News reported that a University of Maryland freshman had died of an adenovirus-related illness. The family of Olivia Paregol told reporters that she was being treated for Crohn’s disease. Immune suppression is one recognized risk factor for more severe adenoviral disease; underlying heart and lung disease are others. Testing at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that the student and several others on campus were infected with adenovirus type 7, a strain that has been associated with outbreaks of acute, severe respiratory illness in military recruits. As of Jan. 24, 2019, university officials reported 42 confirmed cases of adenovirus in University of Maryland students, 13 of which were confirmed as adenovirus 7.

Adenovirus type 7 also caused an outbreak at a pediatric long-term care facility in New Jersey late last year. Between Sept. 26 and Nov. 11, 2018, 36 residents and 1 staff member became ill. Eleven individuals died. In an unrelated outbreak at a second pediatric long-term care facility, 17 residents were affected between Oct. 20 and Dec. 10, 2018. Adenovirus 3 was identified and all children recovered.

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