Adenovirus Joins The Flu Epidemic This Winter Season

Adenovirus looks like flu. It feels like flu. It even puts patients into the hospital like flu can.



Adenovirus: What Is It?

According to NBC News, the adenovirus can cause very severe flu-like symptoms. It’s so risky that the U.S. military now vaccinates recruits against two major strains.

But most people are not vaccinated against adenovirus, and doctor’s offices don’t test for it.

Adenovirus infections often look like the common cold, or like the flu. They cause fever, headache, body aches and sometimes but not always cough, stomach distress and breathing problems. Some strains cause eye infections. There are 52 different strains.


Adenovirus: Alerting The Public

Adriana Kajon, Ph.D, wants people to be aware of adenovirus and protect themselves.

“Unless you look for it or you suspect it’s circulating or you are using diagnostic testing capabilities that can tell it apart, you are going to miss it, especially during flu season,” said Kajon, an infectious disease specialist at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque.

“On the basis of the severity of the clinical presentation of some cases in this study, the adenovirus vaccine currently licensed for military use should be considered a potentially valuable resource to prevent disease in susceptible populations living in closed communities, such as college settings, summer camps, and long-term care facilities,” Kajon and colleagues wrote in a report published this week in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases.

There have been outbreaks in long-term care facilities, also. Clinics don’t test for adenovirus unless people are hospitalized with severe illness, Kajon said.

“These reports are probably the tip of the iceberg. We need more surveillance,” she said.


Adenovirus: Statistics

An outbreak of adenovirus killed 10 people in 2007. Kajon’s team tested college students at one campus during the severe 2014-15 influenza epidemic and found 13 out of 168 students who came in for flu treatment actually  had adenovirus infections.

Most patients may not suffer much, but the virus can cause very severe complications. Kajon and colleagues described the case of a 43-year-old women from Rochester, New York, who was previously healthy but became infected in 2012 and quickly developed pneumonia and respiratory failure. During her hospital stay she suffered brain swelling and bleeding and stayed on a ventilator for more than a month.

A year later, she was still out of breath if she exerted herself.

There was also the case of a 26-year-old Connecticut man infected in 2011 who had nausea, vomiting and chills. He spent days in the hospital with adenovirus infection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention keeps a log of reported cases of adenovirus.

Outbreaks are more common in late winter, spring, and early summer but can occur throughout the year, according to the CDC said.

Adenovirus: Vaccine Treatment

Adenovirus is not the killer that influenza is. Flu kills 12,000 to 50,000 people a year in the United States alone, and puts up to 700,000 in the hospital.

As with many viruses, there’s not a good treatment for adenovirus, although the antiviral cidofovir has helped some people with severe infections.

And adenoviruses are very hard to kill. Reports indicate they can survive on plastic and metal surfaces, such as  countertops and hospital tables for a month. The most effective killing agent for this is chlorine.

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