Skip to main content

Combating the adenovirus. What can you do?

A child blows his nose. Charles Schleien, MD, tells how you can safeguard against the adenovirus that is spreading across the East Coast.
Common sense may be the key to avoiding the adenovirus.

Learn about the ubiquitous virus that has several strains spreading through the East Coast and how you can safeguard against it.

We’ve reached a critical point in this current adenovirus outbreak, where the illness has killed a student and sickened at least five others at the University of Maryland.

The news of the freshman’s death comes on the heels of an outbreak in New Jersey that claimed the lives of 11 children at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation.

Adenovirus 7 was the strain that caused the deaths in both outbreaks. The public needs more awareness about the virus and how it can be prevented.

What is adenovirus?

There are more than 60 types of adenovirus, an ever-present virus that is commonly associated with upper respiratory infections and other illnesses, such as pneumonia and conjunctivitis. It can be associated with various gastrointestinal symptoms.

Adenovirus controls cells and turns them into virus-producers, which multiplies and spreads infection. Additional symptoms of adenoviral infection include the common cold, sore throat, diarrhea, fever, bladder inflammation, among others.

The recent outbreaks across the US include types 3, 4 and 7, which are most commonly associated with acute respiratory disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

quotation mark The best thing to do is follow common sense. Simple stuff — wash your hands often with soap and water, or alcohol-based gels. If you are around someone who is sick, try to stay away.
Charles Schleien, MD

Who is at risk?

Everyone is at risk of contracting adenovirus. It particularly impacts those with weakened immune systems such as those receiving chemotherapy or individuals who have chronic respiratory or cardiac issues. For example, many chronically ill children living together are highly susceptible because they have some form of immunosuppression (reduction of activity of the immune system) and due to their close living conditions.

It is also common in small, closed spaces like college dorms, intensive care units, and in military barracks (there is an adenovirus vaccine available for US service members).

Adenoviruses can be spread through close contact, coughing and sneezing. It can also spread through stool. Patients who already have an illness and contract the adenovirus tend to get much sicker.

What should you do?

The best thing to do is follow common sense. Simple stuff — wash your hands often with soap and water, or alcohol-based gels. If you are around someone who is sick, try to stay away.

There is no known treatment for adenovirus.

If you have a cold, take the usual precautions about coughing and sneezing. Use tissues and get rid of them immediately. Get plenty of rest and drink lots of clear liquids.

Charles Schleien, MD, is executive director of Cohen Children’s Medical Center, and senior vice president, executive director and chair of pediatrics at Northwell. He is also the Philip Lanzkowsky Chair and Professor of Pediatrics at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell.