Adenovirus infections result in flu-like symptoms like coughing and sneezing , sore throat and fever. Since it’s airborne, the virus is passed on by coughing or sneezing. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Influenza cases are spreading in several places in India. While some states have reported H2N3 cases in the past weeks, the new worry comes in the form of adenovirus infections.

At least 19 children have died of acute respiratory illness wrought by adenovirus in the eastern state of West Bengal, which has recorded more than 12,000 cases since January. Some reports put the death toll at 40. Another eastern Indian state of Assam, Maharashtra in the west and Karnataka in the south, have reported cases with flu-like symptoms.

Adenovirus infections tend to be mild and disappear in a few days. But the spate of deaths has baffled doctors. Health officials say two mutated adenovirus strains have led to sickness and death of children.

Here’s what you should know about the adenovirus.

What’s adenovirus?

Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that cause mild to severe infections throughout the body. The disease commonly affects the respiratory system, eyes and stomach. Most adenovirus infections require only symptom relief for treatment, according to the Cleveland Clinic in the US.

Virologists have identified about 50 types of adenoviruses. Although infections can occur throughout the year, they peak in the winter and early spring.

Human adenovirus (Adenoviridae), blue on a dark background). Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that cause mild to severe infections throughout the body. The disease commonly affects the respiratory system, eyes and stomach. Image Credit: Shutterstock

How does it spread?

Adenovirus spreads from one person to another through close contact or touching an infected surface. Since it’s airborne, the virus is passed on by coughing or sneezing. So masks and frequent washing of hands can help keep the pathogen away. Adenoviruses are resistant to common disinfectants, so infected surfaces can remain contagious for a long time.

The virus can also spread through the stool of an infected person and through unchlorinated water, especially in a swimming pool.

Who’s at risk?

Adenoviruses can affect people of all ages, but children younger than 5 years are more vulnerable. Adenoviruses often spread in schools, daycares, dormitories and military quarters. The virus spread is also common in hospitals and nursing homes.

People with weak immune systems are likely to get seriously ill from an adenovirus infection. This includes people who have undergone stem cell transplants or organ transplants and those with cancer, respiratory or cardiac issues.

What are the different types of adenoviruses?

There are around 50 variants of the adenovirus, and different types infect different parts of the body. Types 3, 4, 7 and 14 are associated with acute respiratory illness. Adenovirus types 8, 19, 37, 53, and 54 can cause epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, while types 40 and 41 cause gastroenteritis, usually in children, a CDC report said.

Why are the experts worried?

Some of them have caused liver inflammation or hepatitis to at least 600 children in 34 countries, according to a Reuters report in 2022. Experts say “acute hepatitis” from adenovirus infection is unusual since severe liver inflammation is uncommon among children in the 2-10 age group.

Image Credit: Gulf News/Shutterstock

What are the steps to prevent adenovirus infection?

  1. Keep a distance from other people. Avoid physical contact with others.
  2. Stay away from sick people. Keep children away from the sick.
  3. Sick people should stay home. Don’t send sick children to school or allow them to play with others.
  4. Wash hands with soap and water often and before meals. Or use hand sanitiser.
  5. Avoid touching your mouth, nose or eyes with unwashed hands.
  6. Clean surfaces like sinks, counters and similar surfaces with strong disinfectants like chlorine to eliminate germs.
  7. Avoid sharing utensils, cups, towels and pillows with others.
  8. Don’t swim in pools that are not maintained properly.
  9. Cover nose and mouth whenever sneezing or coughing.

How long will adenovirus symptoms last?

Mild adenovirus symptoms last for a few days, and severe infections can take up to two weeks or more, a Cleveland Clinic report said. Some symptoms, such as a cough, linger for a more extended period.

How is an adenovirus infection diagnosed?

A mild infection may not require laboratory tests for diagnosis. Doctors may order lab tests with swab samples from the nose or throat to confirm an adenovirus infection if the symptoms are severe. But such tests are not routine, the Cleveland Clinic said on its website.

How are adenovirus infections treated?

There is no specific treatment for adenovirus infections. Since most infections are mild, they are treated for symptoms. Patients are advised to drink plenty of water, especially if they have diarrhoea, and get plenty of rest.

Antiviral medications are ineffective for people with healthy immune systems, and antibiotics are useless against viruses.

Is there a vaccine for adenovirus infection?

There’s no adenovirus vaccine for the public. But the US Food and Drug Administration has approved a vaccine against types 4 and 7 for use in military personnel who are at higher risk for infection from these two types, a Cleveland Clinic report said.