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Killer Cold Virus Appears in U.S.

10 Deaths From Outbreaks in 4 States as Ad14 Cold Virus Becomes More Common

Adenovirus Spreads Easily

There are 51 different adenovirus strains. In the 1960s, Gray says, adenovirus was considered a "rather innocuous childhood problem." That opinion changed when adenoviruses turned out to be responsible for huge outbreaks that caused severe disease and deaths among military recruits.

"Now we know adenovirus is really a big player and associated with chronic diseases," Gray says. "The latest condition to be associated with adenovirus is obesity. It's also implicated in heart infections, brain infections, and in some inflammatory diseases of the lung. It is a very interesting virus."

Adenovirus can spread from person to person via aerosolized droplets in sneezes and coughs. But it's also present in feces, and fecal-oral spread is common among young children. The virus can survive for weeks on contaminated surfaces. In the summer, there may be swimming-pool-related outbreaks.

The adenovirus incubation period is two to nine days. Different adenovirus strains behave differently, but outbreaks can be explosive.

A vaccine that protected against the Ad4 and Ad7 adenovirus strains nearly eliminated the U.S. military problem. But when its single manufacturer stopped making the vaccine, serious adenovirus outbreaks once again began to plague recruits.

A new Ad4/Ad7 vaccine is in the works. But Gray says it's unlikely the vaccine will cross-protect against the new Ad14 virus.

Su says it's impossible to tell whether Ad14 will become a major epidemic. But Gray notes that adenovirus disease is more common in the winter months in the U.S. And since there are few labs that can rapidly identify adenovirus infection, it's going to be hard to know exactly how many Ad14 cases occur.

"It could very well increase this winter among some populations, but it will be hard to make an assessment," Gray says.

One thing is known for sure: The new Ad14 virus is very different from the Ad14 strain first discovered in the 1950s.

"The Ad14 strain we see here is genetically distinct from previous strains," Su says. "It is a variant of the virus never seen before."

What to Do About Ad14

What can you do about Ad14?

Parents, Su says, should watch kids' colds carefully. Any child with a severe cold should be taken to a doctor or nurse.

For that matter, anyone with a severe cold or a cold that keeps getting worse should seek medical attention.

"If health care providers see a patient with worsening symptoms like cough or runny nose or troubled breathing, they should send off a sample for testing," Su says. "If it is adenovirus, they should keep daily tabs on that patient until they turn the corner. That way, if they go downhill really fast -- which patients with Ad14 infection can do -- they can get the more intensive medical care they may need."

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