What is an Adenovirus?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 06 January 2020
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An adenovirus is a virus in the Adenoviridae family. These viruses are abundantly common around the world, with over 50 identified serotypes which can cause a range of infections. Many healthy people carry a harmless adenovirus or two with them, and the virulent forms of these viruses are highly contagious, spreading rapidly from person to person once someone becomes infected. Infection with these viruses is most common in children, although adults in crowded situations like colleges and military barracks are subject to infection as well.

In many cases, adenovirus infection causes an infection of the respiratory tract. These viruses can also cause conjunctivitis, gastroenteritis, encephalitis, cystitis, pneumonia, and chronic interstitial fibrosis, among other things. Patients may feel nausea or fatigue, and they may experience coughing, diarrhea, and difficulty urinating, depending on the nature of the infection. Frequently, the infection appears bacterial in nature at first, and when the infection does not respond to antibiotics, a doctor may take a sample to look for signs of adenovirus.

People can catch these viruses through airborne particles from coughs and sneezes, and by handling things which have been touched by someone who carries an adenovirus. Once the virus gets on the hands, it can enter the eyes or nose when these areas are touched, or it can be ingested, causing gastroenteritis. Infected individuals may also pass the virus through poor food handling which exposes people to the virus.


There is no specific treatment for adenovirus infection. Often, patients recover on their own, with some supportive hydration. Sometimes, a patient becomes severely dehydrated, and hospitalization is necessary. In rare cases, a patient may become sick enough to die or to require more drastic medical interventions. Deadly cases are more common in people with compromised immune systems and in people living in stressed, crowded environments.

These viruses were first recognized in 1953 in tissue from the adenoids, which is why they are known as adenoviruses. In some regions, vaccinations against specific serotypes are available, and these may be recommended for people who live or work in crowded environments. Since adenovirus infection is usually not terribly dangerous, and many people acquire immunities at a young age, vaccinations are not necessary in most cases, but a doctor may have specific recommendations for a particular patient. People should note that the best way to avoid infection is to wash the hands regularly, and to avoid touching the face with unwashed hands.


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Post 6

It doesn't take much for something like the adenovirus to spread around a day care center. My kids have had this more than once and there doesn't seem to be any way to avoid it.

All the kids eat and play together all day long and they constantly pick up other toys that someone else has had in their mouth so the only way to avoid it would be to keep them home.

Once one kid gets it, it quickly spreads throughout the whole building. Not only do the kids get sick, but a lot of the staff members do too.

It can get pretty crazy until the whole thing has cycled through and everyone is healthy again.

Post 5

I always worry about getting something like the adenovirus after I have been traveling on an airplane for any length of time.

You are in such close quarters and you know everything you touch is not very clean. If someone sitting next to you has a cold or coughs, you don't have any place else to go.

I like to keep antibacterial wipes with me when I travel so I can make sure and wash my hands frequently. I am sure it doesn't totally prevent me from catching something like this, but would sure think it couldn't hurt any.

Post 4

@kylee07drg - I remember that happening at my school as well, but the adenovirus we had involved diarrhea and vomiting. It was truly awful. However, I didn’t miss out on anything at school, because classes had been canceled.

A lot of us went to the doctor. I saw several of my classmates in the waiting room.

I just feel bad for doctors during adenovirus outbreaks! They have to be exposed to so many highly contagious people during these times, and they must end up ill themselves. Perhaps they have some sort of immune system booster or vaccination that we don’t know about, because I don’t know how else they could stay well.

Post 3

A terrible cough was going around my school. Dozens of kids missed class because of it.

My friend got it and went to the doctor. He gave her antibiotics, but after four days, she only got worse. He then discovered that it was an adenovirus, and he told her it would just have to run its course.

When the school found out that it could not be treated, they decided to cancel classes for a week. Too many students and teachers were already out, and they didn’t want to risk infecting the remaining ones.

Post 2

I remember the time an adenovirus went around my sorority house. At least we all got to be miserable together, but no one could take care of anyone else, because we were all so puny!

The first girl to get it had partied hard the night before, so we thought she was just vomiting from a hangover. However, she kept on vomiting throughout the day, and we could tell she was way sicker than we had originally thought.

Her best friend caught it the next day. Most of us only puked for about a day and a half, and we spent the second half of the second day lying in bed and drinking liquids to recover.

We all missed two days worth of classes. It was a rough time, and it was about the only time I questioned the wisdom of living with so many people at once.

Post 1

I no longer go on cruise ships because of adenoviruses. During my last cruise, everyone on the boat got infected with a virus that caused severe diarrhea. Several people became dehydrated and had to go to the hospital once we arrived back at the port.

We were all really tired and sick. It ruined the second half of our cruise. When you have that many people in close quarters, you can’t avoid getting the virus. It’s a risk that you take when you board the ship.

I decided that I never wanted to go through that again. It’s a terrible feeling when everyone around you is ill, and you know that you will be next, no matter what.

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