Adenoviruses are a family of viruses that can infect people of all ages. These infections most often affect the upper respiratory tract. They are slightly more common in the late winter, spring, and early summer months, but can develop at other times of the year as well. Different adenoviruses cause illness at different areas in the body. Some strains cause infection of the lining of the eyelids, breathing passages, and lungs, while others affect the bowel or bladder.
The adenoviruses are spread by person-to-person contact, including through secretions that are sneezed or coughed into the air or onto hands and faces. Some adenoviruses are present in the bowels and stools. A person who gets the virus on his hands while bathing or using the bathroom can spread these viruses. The virus can go from one set of hands to the next and then into the mouth or nose or onto the eyes. Children who are in child care, especially those from 6 months to 2 years of age, have a greater chance of getting these viruses. The viruses also are spread in schools or summer camps. On occasion, children may get the infection through contaminated swimming pool water or by sharing towels.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of adenovirus infections are similar to those of the common cold. Sick children may develop a stuffy or runny nose as well as a sore throat (pharyngitis), eyelid lining inflammation (conjunctivitis), infection of the small breathing tubes in the lungs (bronchiolitis), pneumonia, a middle ear infection, or a fever. Some youngsters may have a harsh cough similar to that of whooping cough. Sometimes there is bleeding into the covering of the eyes. This virus may cause eyes to look very frightening, but vision is not affected. Children infected with some strains of adenovirus develop inflammation of the stomach and intestinal tract, which can cause diarrhea and abdominal cramps (gastroenteritis). This virus can also infect the bladder and cause blood in the urine and pain while urinating. Occasionally, the virus causes infection in or around the brain (meningitis or encephalitis). In children with an organ transplant or other conditions in which the immune system is weakened, adenovirus infection can be quite severe and result in an overwhelming infection and death.
Once a child is exposed to the virus, there is an incubation period of 2 to 14 days before he has symptoms. The incubation period for gastroenteritis can range from 3 to 10 days.
What You Can Do
Make sure your child gets extra rest and drinks plenty of fluids. If he is uncomfortable, you can consider giving him acetaminophen to reduce his fever or ease the pain of a sore throat, but remember that fever is one way your child’s body fights these viruses.
When to Call Your Pediatrician
If your school-aged child has a sore throat and fever, contact your pediatrician to be sure the illness is not caused by group A streptococcus bacteria (strep throat). Call if your child has symptoms that last more than a few days, he has difficulty breathing, or he appears to be getting worse. Also, let your pediatrician know if your youngster shows signs of dehydration, such as a decreased output of urine or crying without tears.
How is the Diagnosis Made?
Most times your pediatrician will examine your child and make the diagnosis based on the signs and symptoms. If your child’s throat is inflamed, the pediatrician may check for strep. There are special tests for virus detection, but because there is no specific medicine to fight these viruses, it is usually not worth the pain of getting the specimen or the cost of the tests. If your child is very ill or has an underlying problem, your pediatrician can take a sample of secretions from the throat, eyes, and other body regions for laboratory testing to identify the presence of adenoviruses. Tests can also be conducted on stool, blood, or urine samples.
As of 2011, there is no specific treatment for adenoviruses. Your pediatrician will suggest supportive care that helps ease your child’s symptoms and makes him more comfortable.
What is the Prognosis?
Most children with adenovirus infections tend to get better in a few days, although coughs and eye infections often last longer. Complications occasionally develop, particularly in young infants and children with weakened immune systems. These may include severe pneumonia leading to respiratory failure or an overwhelming infection leading to failure of multiple organs and subsequent death.
Frequent hand washing can help reduce the chances of spreading adenovirus infections. Toys and other objects handled by children should be kept clean and disinfected. Your child should swim only in swimming pools that have been adequately chlorinated.