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What Are Adenovirus Infections?

Medically Reviewed by Amita Shroff, MD on December 01, 2020

Adenoviruses are a group of common viruses that infect the lining of your eyes, airways and lungs, intestines, urinary tract, and nervous system. They're common causes of fever, coughs, sore throats, diarrhea, and pink eye.

Infections happen in children more often than in adults, but anyone can get them. Most kids will have at least one type of adenovirus infection by the time they’re 10.

The infections usually cause only mild symptoms and get better on their own in a few days. But they can be more serious in people with weak immune systems, especially children.

How Adenoviruses Spread

These viruses are common in places with large groups of kids, such as day care centers, schools, and summer camps.

They’re very contagious. They can spread when someone who's infected coughs or sneezes. Droplets containing the virus fly into the air and land on surfaces.

Your child can catch the virus when they touch the hand of someone who has it or a toy or other object held by someone who has it and then touches their mouth, nose, or eyes. It spreads quickly with children because they’re more likely to put their hands on their face and in their mouths.

You can get infected when you change a diaper. You also can get sick from eating food prepared by someone who didn't wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom. It’s possible to catch the virus in water, like in small lakes or a swimming pool that isn’t well maintained, but this doesn’t happen often.

Symptoms

Each type of adenovirus can affect you differently:

If you think your child may have one of these viruses, check with their pediatrician. Always call the doctor if a baby under 3 months old has symptoms of an adenovirus infection.

Call the doctor right away if your child has any of these more serious symptoms:

  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling around their eyes
  • Fever that doesn't go away after a few days
  • Signs of dehydration, such as few tears or less wet diapers

 

Diagnosis

Your child’s doctor may want to do a physical exam and possibly one or more of these tests to see if a virus or bacteria caused the infection:

  • Blood test: A nurse will take a sample of your child’s blood from a vein in their arm.
  • Urine test: Your child will pee in a cup the nurse gives you.
  • Swab test: A nurse will use a cotton swab to get a sample of mucus from your child’s nose.
  • Stool test: You’ll collect a sample of your child’s poop at home and bring it to the doctor’s office.
  • Chest X-ray: Your child will lie still while a technician uses a small amount of radiation to take pictures of the inside of their chest. This will give your child’s doctor a closer look at their heart and lungs.

 

Treatment

Antibiotics won't help adenovirus infections because these drugs only kill bacteria. Children often get over the illness on their own within a few days. Some infections, like pink eye or pneumonia, can last for a week or more.

Kids with a weak immune system may need treatment in the hospital to help them recover.

You can do some things to help your child feel better:

  • Give plenty of liquids. Kids lose fluids from fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. They can get dehydrated. Water or 100% fruit juice are the best choices to keep kids hydrated. You might also try a children's solution that has electrolytes.
  • Clear congestion. Help your child blow their nose often. For an infant, put a few drops of saline spray or drops into their nose. Then suction out mucus with a bulb syringe.
  • Turn on a cool-mist humidifier. The moisture will loosen congestion and help your child breathe more easily.
  • Bring down a fever. Ask your doctor if you can give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) to relieve aches and fever. Don't give children products that contain aspirin, which can lead to a rare but serious condition called Reye syndrome.

 

Prevention

To help keep your child from getting sick:

  • Try to keep your child away from anyone you know is sick.
  • Wash your child's hands -- and yours -- often during the day, and especially before meals. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you don't have soap and water nearby.
  • Clean surfaces, like sinks and counters, to get rid of germs.
  • Don't let them swim in pools that aren't well maintained.

Keep your child home when they're sick to avoid spreading adenoviruses to others. Tell them to cover their nose and mouth whenever they sneeze or cough.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Pediatrics: "Adenovirus Infections."

Boston Children's Hospital: "Adenovirus Infections in Children."

CDC: "Adenovirus," “Adenoviruses: Outbreaks.”

HealthyKids.org: "Adenovirus Infections."

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