Adenovirus infection

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at November 3, 2016
StartDiseasesAdenovirus infection

Adenovirus infections are viral infections that affect the membranes throughout the body. Commonly seen in children, adenovirus infections can cause a number of different problems. Hard to detect, these viruses are most often simply fought off by the body’s immune system for a full recovery.


Definition & Facts

Adenovirus infections are a group of infections that can affect the respiratory system, eyes, intestines, urinary system, and nervous system. These are common infections that are rarely life-threatening for most people. Highly common in children, day care centers and schools often see outbreaks of adenovirus infection with cases of respiratory tract infections and stomach ailments.

There are a variety of different adenovirus infections, and most children experience at least one outbreak before they reach the age of 10 years old. Adenoviruses can occur at any time of year, and they account for about 10 percent of all fever-related illnesses in children.

Symptoms & Complaints

The signs and symptoms of adenovirus vary, depending on which part of the body is affected. The most common infection caused by adenovirus is a respiratory tract infection. With this type of infection, a child will likely have symptoms that are similar to the flu, such as:

Adenovirus can also affect the digestive system including the stomach and intestines. A person may experience watery diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headache, fever, and abdominal cramps when this occurs.

Additionally, the virus can cause urinary tract infections with symptoms of frequent urination, pain or burning upon urination, and/or blood in the urine (hematuria).

Moreover, it can also cause conjunctivitis, also known as pinkeye. The symptoms of this are an itchy, red eye that has a discharge, tearing, and the feeling that there is something in the eye. Conjunctivitis is often seen in combination with a respiratory adenovirus infection.

Finally, this virus can affect the nervous system. Meningitis is inflammation of the meninges (membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord), while encephalitis is inflammation of the brain. They can have symptoms of fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, stiff neck, and skin rash.


Adenovirus infections are generally spread from person to person. This can happen in a number of different ways. First, one can pick up the adenovirus infection by touching or even just shaking hands with a person who has the infection, or who has touched someone else with the infection and then touching one's eyes, nose, or mouth.

Also common, the adenovirus can simply be spread through the air. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, the germs can float in the air to infect another person. Similarly, the germs can land on surfaces and live there for extended periods. A person comes along and touches the surface then touches one's eyes, nose, or mouth and becomes infected. This is especially common in daycare and health care settings where the virus may be highly prevalent.

Less common, but still possible, the adenovirus can be spread through stool, such as during a diaper change or in a hospital setting. Finally, since the virus can live in water, it can be present in swimming pools and lakes, and a person can become infected from the water. A person who is spreading the virus does not always appear to be sick. Even after recovering from an adenovirus infection, a person can still spread it for several months after recovery.

Diagnosis & Tests

Adenovirus infections often resemble other infections and are hard to detect. They are often misdiagnosed or simply just assumed to be another virus. There are ways to test for adenovirus if it is suspected, however. A doctor can test the secretions from the nose or cough sputum, eye discharge, or a stool sample.

Blood tests and clinical urine tests can also be conducted to detect the presence of an adenovirus. Blood tests for adenovirus measure the antibodies the body produces to fight the virus. The antibodies will increase to fight the virus, but this often does not happen until at least a week after infection.

Treatment & Therapy

Generally, there is no treatment for adenovirus. The body and the immune system will likely take care of the virus within a few days to two weeks. If a person has a weakened immune system or another underlying condition, doctors may prescribe stronger treatments. Hospitalization is typically not required to treat adenovirus.

Very young children or those with severe diarrhea or vomiting may need to be hospitalized to treat dehydration, however. Those children with respiratory ailments can be made to feel more comfortable with a cool mist vaporizer. Extra fluids and lots of rest are recommended for quicker recovery. Over-the-counter pain medications such as acetaminophen may be given for fever, but patients should check with their doctor first.

For those with digestive upset, assure that they get plenty of fluids to replace those that are being lost. Conjunctivitis patients can be made more comfortable with warm compresses to the eye. The doctor may prescribe an ointment or topical drops to help make the eye feel better as well. Most important for all adenovirus patients is to stay as comfortable as possible and get plenty of fluids and rest.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There is currently no vaccine to prevent adenovirus for the general public. There is, however, a vaccine against adenovirus types four and seven that was approved for the military in 2011. Nonetheless, there are some important steps a person can take to stop the spread of adenovirus.

First, everyone needs to practice careful hand washing techniques. Soap and warm water must be used for at least 30 seconds, and a person must take care to completely dry the hands as well. Since adenovirus can live on surfaces and in swimming pools for long periods, it is important to disinfect surfaces and to be sure pools are properly chlorinated.

In addition, covering any coughs or sneezes, and then washing hands, is essential to keep the spread of infection to a minimum. Finally, it is important to stay away from people who may be infected and to isolate a person who has the infection.