KidsMD Health Topics

Adenovirus Infections

  • Overview

    Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that cause respiratory (breathing) illnesses, such as a common cold, conjunctivitis (an infection in the eye), croup, bronchitis, bronchiolitis (inflammation of the lower airways) and pneumonia. Most adenovirus infections are mild.

    Adenoviruses can also cause urinary or intestinal tract infections. The Division of Infectious Diseases at Boston Children's Hospital provides consultative care for children and adolescents with all types of infections.

    • Infections can occur at any age.
    • Most children have had one form of the infection by age 10.
    • They are contagious.
    • The best way to prevent infections is by washing your hands.
    • Treatment involves staying hydrated and may require medication.

    Contact Us

    The Division of Infectious Diseases provides consultative care for children and adolescents with all types of infections.
    Boston Children's Hospital 
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115
     (617) 919-2900
     fax: 617-667-1742

    Croup, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, common colds and pneumonia caused by an adenovirus infection are treated by our Respiratory Disease specialists. [ visit the site ]
    Boston Children's Hospital 
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

     fax: 617-730-0373
    Conjunctivitis acquired from an adenovirus infection is treated in our Ophthalmology Department. [ visit the site ]
    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

    Urinary tract infections are commonly associated with an adenovirus infection and can be treated through our Urology Department. [ visit the site ]
    Boston Children's Hospital
    300 Longwood Avenue
    Boston MA 02115

  • In-Depth

    What is an Adenovirus infection?

    Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that typically cause respiratory or intestinal illnesses. They are common and highly contagious. Most adenovirus infections are mild.

    Types of Adenovirus infections

    In addition to the common cold, bronchitis and infections in the intestinal tract, an adenovirus can include:

    • Conjunctivitis
      • eye infection also known as pink eye
    • Croup
      • leads to swelling in the airways and problems breathing
      • may cause your child to make high-pitched sound when breathing in
      • most commonly seen in children 3 months old to 5 years, with the peak around 2 years old
      • boys more affected than girls
      • more often in the fall and winter
      • lasts usually three to seven days
    • Bronchiolitis
      • infection of the lower respiratory tract that usually affects infants
      • occurs when the smaller airways of lung swell, making it hard to breath
      • usually occurs in the winter and spring
      • affects infants 2 to 6 months old
      • boys more affected than girls
    • Pneumonia
      • inflammation of the lungs
      • can occur year round, but is usually seen in the winter and spring.
      • boys are affected more often than girls.
      • ten to 15 percent of children with a respiratory infection have pneumonia

    What causes an Adenovirus infection?

    Adenoviruses are contagious, which means you child can pass them on to other children. The type of infection determines how it spreads.

    • Respiratory infections
      • coming in contact with infectious material from another individual or object
      • secretions from the respiratory tract may contain the virus
      • can survive for many hours on objects such as doorknobs, hard surfaces and toys
      • symptoms may develop 2 to 14 days after exposure
    • Intestinal tract infections
      • usually occurs by fecal-oral contact
      • the result of poor hand-washing or from consuming contaminated food or water
      • symptoms may develop 3 to 10 days after exposure
        usually occurs in children younger than 4 years old and may last one to two weeks

    Are adenoviruses common?

    This group of infections is very common. In fact, most children have had at least one form of the infection by the age of 10. Some of the viruses pop up in certain times of year and in certain age groups.

    • Respiratory infections are most common in the late winter, spring and early summer.
    • Intestinal tract infections can occur anytime throughout the year.
    • Digestive tract infections are more common in children under age 4.

    What are the symptoms of an Adenovirus infection?

    Most adenovirus infections are mild with few symptoms. While each child may experience symptoms differently, the most common include:

    • Respiratory infections
    • Intestinal tract infections
      • abrupt onset of watery diarrhea
      • fever
      • abdominal tenderness
      • swelling of the abdomen

    Are there complications of an adenovirus?

    While not common, there are some complications that can be caused by an adenovirus. They include:

    • Chronic lung disease
      • very rare
      • may develop if a child develops pneumonia from adenovirus
      • this strain of the virus has a 10 percent mortality rate
    • Severe infections
      • children with weakened immune systems are at risk
    • Intussusception
      • when one part of the intestine slides over another section, like a telescope, causing an intestinal blockage)
      • most often occurs in babies
      • is a medical emergency
      • symptoms: bloody stool, vomiting, abdominal swelling, knees flexed to chest, loud cries from pain, weakness and lethargy
    • Chronic infection of the tonsils and adenoids
      • lymph-like gland that is located in the back of the nose and throat
      • when your child retains the adenovirus for a long time without major symptoms

    Can I prevent my child from catching an Adenovirus infection?

    The best way to avoid getting an adenovirus is by frequently washing your hands and your child's hands. If your child is in the hospital, health care workers will wear special apparel, such as gowns and gloves, when they enter your child's room to avoid spreading any infections.

  • Tests

    How does a doctor know that it's an adenovirus?

    In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, your child's doctor may use these tests:

    • blood work
    • nasal swab
    • stool culture
    • chest x-ray
  • At home, the best thing you can do is relieve your child's symptoms associated with the infection and wait until it passes. Because the infection is caused by a virus, antibiotics don't work.

    Traditional treatments for adenovirus infections

    • Drinking lots of fluids
      • It essential to keep your child hydrated.
      • Water, formula, breast milk and/or special electrolyte-containing fluids (fluids containing sugars and salts) such as Pedialyte, are good choices.
      • Very young children should not be hydrated with soda, juices or sports drinks.
      • If necessary, we may need to give your child an intravenous (IV) line to give your child fluids and essential electrolytes.
    • Medications
      • may be used to open your child's airways
      • often given in an aerosol mist by a mask or through an inhaler
    • Supplemental oxygen
      • given through a mask, nasal prongs or an oxygen tent
    • Mechanical ventilation
      • If a child becomes very ill, she may need mechanical ventilation or a respirator to assist with breathing for a period of time.

    Some children may develop severe enough dehydration to require hospitalization. If this happens, you child may need:

    • intravenous (IV) fluids
    • nasogastric (NG) tube feedings (a small tube is placed into your child's stomach through her nose so that doctors can give her formula or fluids)
    • blood work (to measure your child's electrolyte levels - sugar, salt and other chemicals in the blood)
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