Children - Adenovirus Infections

What are adenoviruses?

Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that typically cause respiratory illnesses, such as a common cold, conjunctivitis (an infection in the eye that is sometimes called pink eye), croup, bronchiolitis, or pneumonia. In children, adenoviruses usually cause infections in the respiratory tract and intestinal tract.

  • Adenovirus infections may occur in children of any age. However, children ages 6 months to 2 years who attend child care may be more likely to become ill with these viruses, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

  • Adenoviral respiratory infections are most common in the late winter, spring, and early summer. But adenovirus infections can occur anytime throughout the year.

  • Adenovirus infections of the digestive tract are more common in children under the age of 5.

  • Most children have had one form of adenovirus infection by age 10.

How are adenoviruses spread?

The following are the most common ways adenoviruses are spread from person to person:

  • Respiratory infections. Fluid from the respiratory tract (nose, mouth, throat, and mouth) may contain the virus. Respiratory infections are spread when someone with the virus coughs or sneezes on another person. It can also be spread by touching an object that is contaminated by the virus. The virus can live for many hours on objects, such as doorknobs, hard surfaces, and toys.

  • Intestinal tract infections. The form of the virus that affects the digestive tract is usually spread by fecal-oral contact. Usually this is because of poor hand washing or from eating or drinking contaminated food or water.

What are the symptoms of adenovirus infections?

Most adenovirus infections are mild with few symptoms. The following chart describes the most common symptoms of adenovirus infections. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

Respiratory infections (symptoms may develop 2 to 14 days after exposure)

Intestinal tract infections (symptoms may develop 3 to 10 days after exposure); symptoms usually occur in children younger than 5 years and may last 1 to 2 weeks.

Symptoms of a common cold--runny nose

Watery diarrhea that starts suddenly

Sore throat



Abdominal tenderness

Severe cough


Swollen lymph nodes




Feeling of uneasiness


"Pink eye"


The symptoms of adenoviruses may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

How is an adenovirus infection diagnosed?

Usually, testing for adenovirus is only necessary in severely ill children or those with an underlying medical problem. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic tests for adenoviruses may include:

  • Blood work

  • Testing respiratory fluids by eye, nasal, or throat swab

  • Testing stool samples

  • Chest X-ray


There is no cure for adenovirus infections. Treatment is focused on relieving the symptoms. Antibiotics are not used to treat adenoviruses. Specific treatment for adenovirus infections will be determined by your child's health care provider based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • How sick he or she is

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • How long the infection is expected to last

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment for respiratory infection may include:

  • Increased fluid intake. It's very important to encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids. If necessary, an intravenous (IV) line may be started to give your child fluids and essential electrolytes.

  • Bronchodilator medications. Bronchodilator medications may be used to open your child's airways. These medications are often administered in an aerosol mist by a mask or through an inhaler.

  • Supplemental oxygen through a mask, nasal prongs, or an oxygen tent

  • Mechanical ventilation. A child who becomes very ill with adenovirus may require mechanical ventilation or a respirator to assist with breathing for a period of time.

Treatment for intestinal infection may include:

  • Oral rehydration. Oral rehydration with water, formula, breast milk and/or special electrolyte-containing fluids (fluids containing sugars and salts) is important. Very young children should NOT be rehydrated with soda, juices, or sports drinks.

Continue feeding your child solid foods if they are able to tolerate them. Some children may develop severe enough dehydration to require hospitalization. For these children, treatment may include:

  • Administration of intravenous (IV) fluids

  • Nasogastric (NG) tube feedings. A small tube is placed into your child's stomach through the nose so that formula or fluids may be administered.

  • Blood work. This is done to measure your child's electrolyte levels--sugar, salt, and other chemicals in the blood.

How can infections with adenoviruses be prevented?

To help prevent the spread of adenoviruses to others:

  • Wash your hands using soap and water and scrubbing for at least 20 seconds. Rinse well and air dry or use a clean towel.

  • Use a tissue and cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough

  • Avoid close contact with someone who is sick

  • Encourage frequent hand washing in child care settings

If your child is in the hospital, health care workers may wear special isolation clothing, such as gowns, gloves, and masks when they enter your child's room.

What can be complications of adenovirus infections?

Certain complications may develop from an adenovirus infection. Talk with your child's health care provider for more information.

  • Children who develop pneumonia from adenovirus may develop chronic lung disease. However, this is very rare.

  • Children with weakened immune systems are at risk for developing a more severe infection from adenoviruses.

  • A severe complication of intestinal adenovirus is intussusception (an intestinal blockage that occurs when one part of the intestine slides over another section like a telescope.) This is a medical emergency and most often occurs in babies. The symptoms of intussusception may include bloody stool, vomiting, abdominal swelling, knees flexed to chest, loud cries from pain, weakness, and lethargy.

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