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What Is Adenovirus?

Adenovirus is a group of common viruses that can cause cold-like symptoms.

We're all familiar with the saying, "If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck."

So, if it looks like a cold or the flu, it is, right? Well, maybe not—and here's why.

Meet adenovirus. The term refers to a family of viruses that you've probably been exposed to at some point in your life. These tough-as-nails viruses really get around.

Since adenovirus is less familiar than colds or the flu, we talked to Dr. Jonathan Grein, director of Hospital Epidemiology, and Dr. Joanne Belgarde, a specialist in internal medicine and pediatrics.

If adenovirus is a family of viruses, how do you describe its family members?
What's most challenging about identifying and treating adenoviruses?

But in certain settings or if you have a weakened immune system or chronic medical conditions, it can matter that we identify adenovirus. Symptoms are usually mild in relatively healthy people, but adenovirus in children or the elderly can be quite severe, even deadly.

How does adenovirus spread?

"Washing your hands is still the most important way to protect yourself."

What should we do to protect ourselves?

"Like colds and flus, adenovirus infections usually spread through respiratory secretions when someone coughs or sneezes."

In the event of an outbreak at your child's school or daycare, should you keep them home?
Is there a specific treatment for children versus adults?

Dr. Belgarde: Treatment for children and adults is the same. The body's immune system fights the viral infection and it typically resolves in 5-7 days.

Antibiotics do not treat viral infections. Treatment typically consists of supportive care, such as rest, fluids, or over-the-counter fever relievers. Antiviral agents are only used to treat severe adenovirus infections in people with suppressed or low immune systems.