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Adenovirus acts a lot like flu, but is dangerous for immunocompromised

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Posted at 7:17 AM, Dec 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-09 08:43:41-05

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — The flu season is upon us, and we're all holding our breaths, hoping we’ll make it through the next few months unscathed.

There is a virus, however, that most people assume is a normal flu. However, the same symptoms could be the result of another lesser-known virus, one for which there's no readily-available vaccine.

If you get a runny nose, cough and a sore throat, you probably think it's the flu.

Think again: You may have the adenovirus.

“The adeno does exist, and it causes the very similar signs and symptoms as the flu does," said Corpus Christi Medical Center Dr. Ravee Patel. "It does not hit you like a ton of bricks like the flu does, but the biggest problem with adenovirus, even though it resolves by itself, and we treat it very symptomatically, it does cause death in immunocompromised individuals. That is why it is getting more attention in recent years.”

A person can become infected with adenovirus at any age, and it causes a range of illnesses, from mild to severe.

“Adenovirus can present with conjunctivitis, which is pink eye," Patel said. "It can also present with diarrhea, which is very different than the presenting symptoms like I said, the common cold or influenza.”

Most people who get sick from adenovirus recover after a few days, but people with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of developing severe complications from an infection.

“Who is at risk?" Patel said. "Basically anybody."

Especially those with illnesses that leave them immunocompromised such as HIV; those on steroids and asthmatics or diabetics.

You can protect yourself and others from adenovirus and other respiratory illnesses.

“To avoid spreading it, you stay home, and you avoid contact," he said. "One of the biggest things the CDC recommends is hand washing -- proper hand washing up to 20 seconds."

Adenovirus are spread by coughing and sneezing, direct contact with an infected person or touching objects and surfaces, such as door handles and light switches, where the virus can live and remain infectious for long periods.

Adenovirus self-resolves in anywhere between seven to 14 days.


Adenoviruses can cause a wide range of illnesses such as:

  • common cold or flu-like symptoms
  • fever
  • sore throat
  • acute bronchitis (inflammation of the airways of the lungs, sometimes called a “chest cold”)
  • pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
  • pink eye (conjunctivitis)
  • acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines causing diarrhea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain)


Adenovirus are usually spread from an infected person to others through:

  • close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands
  • the air by coughing and sneezing
  • touching an object or surface with adenovirus on it, then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes before washing your hands
  • Some adenovirus can spread through an infected person’s stool, for example, during diaper changing.
  • Adenovirus can also spread through the water, such as swimming pools, but this is less common.

It can take the virus a long time to leave the body after a person recovers from an adenovirus infection, especially among people who have weakened immune systems.

This “virus shedding” usually occurs without any symptoms, even though the person can still spread adenovirus to other people.


The adenovirus vaccine is only available to members of the military. You can protect yourself and others from adenovirus and other respiratory illnesses by following a few simple steps:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds (see CDC’s Clean Hands Save Lives!).
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

If you’re sick you can help protect others:

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cough and sneeze into a tissue or your upper shirt sleeve, not your hands.
  • Avoid sharing cups and eating utensils with others.
  • Refrain from kissing others.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the bathroom.


There is no specific treatment for people with adenovirus infection. Most adenovirus infections are mild and may require only care to help relieve symptoms, such as over-the-counter pain medicines or fever reducers. Always read the label and use medications as directed. There are no approved antiviral medicines for adenovirus infections.