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Adenovirus is Going Around

by Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I can’t quite get off the topic of winter viruses without also discussing adenovirus.  We have already discussed RSV as a cause of colds and bronchiolitis and those ubiquitous rhinoviruses, but another nasty virus that spreads like wildfire during the late winter months is adenovirus.



Adenovirus is one of those viruses that can cause just about any symptom from head to toe (literally).  In children it most commonly causes respiratory and intestinal symptoms. This blog is really going to cover the respiratory illnesses related to ‘adeno’. We will talk nasty tummy stuff another time.

Just like other viral infections, adenoviral infections seem to cluster, as these viral particles are easily spread from person to person. The virus is spread by respiratory droplets or by coming into contact with objects or surfaces on which the viral particles have landed and then are picked up by our hands. Surfaces like doorknobs, telephones, toys and desks etc.  Adenovirus is hardy and like many viruses can live on surfaces for many hours.

Once exposed to the virus, a child will typically develop symptoms in 2-14 days after exposure. In other words, you rarely know where you picked this up, but daycare and schools are prime breeding grounds for viral infections, and most children will develop an adenoviral infection before they are four years old.

Adenoviral symptoms are typically like other respiratory viruses, fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose and swollen lymph nodes. Adeno may also cause croup, bronchiolitis (like with RSV) and pneumonia.  The symptoms of the virus typically last for 7 -10 days, although it may take up to two weeks for the infection to resolve.

Adenovirus also causes conjunctivitis  (inflammation of the membranes that cover the eye) which is commonly referred to as pink eye.  With adenoviral pink eye you usually see swollen eye lids, that may even appear to be slightly bruised and bright red eyes with excessive tearing and drainage. At times, there seem to be epidemics of this type of conjunctivitis. In younger children adenoviral infections may also be associated with an ear infection which develops after the upper respiratory symptoms.

The only treatment for these nasty viral infections is the USUAL:  treat the symptoms. Fluids, rest and a cool mist humidifier to help with the cough. I am a big believer in taking hot showers, or sitting in a steamy bathroom or bath to help loosen up all of the mucous (how can one little person make so much?), and good nose blowing to relieve the congestion.  The sore throat may be relieved by eating popsicles and ice cream, while others prefer warm tea or lemonade, whatever is most soothing for your child.

For the discomfort in the eyes, you can use an over the counter artificial tear drop to relieve the “grainy” feeling and help with the discharge. Try to keep your child’s (and you too as adults will get this) hands away from their eyes.  Frequent, but not excessive hand washing is one of the ways to prevent passing the virus to other family members.

So, there are many viruses out there right now, and who knows which one is the definitive culprit for the coughs and colds we are all experiencing. Knowing the names of all of these viruses may make you feel better that you are not getting the same thing over and over, but at the same time the treatment for all  viral respiratory infections is still to treat the symptoms and wait! Antibiotics don’t help these infections.  They all take time to go away. No one ever wants to hear that.

That’s your daily dose for today. We’ll chat again soon.

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