What are adenoviruses, the type of pathogen that killed a University of Maryland freshman?

This electron microscope view shows the adenovirus, a common cause of upper respiratory infections.
This electron microscope view shows the adenovirus, a common cause of upper respiratory infections. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Adenoviruses, the type of virus that led to a University of Maryland freshman’s death and sickened others, are common pathogens that often bring about mild symptoms among those affected.

But they can cause serious complications in some patients. Here’s what you need to know about the viruses.


What are adenovirus​​es​​​​​?

There are more than 50 strains of adenoviruses that cause mild to severe illnesses in humans.


Adenoviruses have a range of symptoms and can lead to illnesses including common colds, sore throat, bronchitis, croup, pneumonia, diarrhea, pink eye, fever, bladder inflammation or infection, stomach and intestinal inflammation and neurological diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

How do they spread?

Adenoviruses can be transmitted in a variety of ways, including close personal contact, through the air, touching a surface with adenoviruses on it, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands. They can also spread through water and feces.

A freshman at the University of Maryland, College Park, died Sunday of complications from adenovirus, and her family is questioning whether the university — which has seen several cases of the illness — could have done more to prevent her death.

What is the treatment?

There is no specific treatment for people with adenoviruses, but those who become sick can manage their symptoms with fever-reducing medication, rest and hydration.

Some people who develop serious complications may require hospitalization.

Who is at risk of developing serious complications?

People with weakened immune systems, existing respiratory or cardiac diseases, or chronic conditions like asthma or diabetes are at greater risk of developing serious illnesses from adenoviruses.

Is there a vaccine?

There is no vaccine for the general public. A vaccine to guard against adenoviruses was approved for U.S. military members only, according to the CDC.

Have there been other cases at the University of Maryland, College Park?

It’s not unusual for a university to experience an adenovirus outbreak around this time of year, said Brian Bachus, chief of the state health department’s division of outbreak investigations.


“It’s not always known when there’s an outbreak on campus because people are going to different physicians,” Bachus said. “It probably happens more frequently than we’re aware.”

Public health officials should support organizations that require flu vaccination among health care personnel and urge others to follow suit. Then the policy should be expanded to other vulnerable populations.

Where are other notable outbreaks?

The New Jersey Department of Health is investigating two unrelated outbreaks at a rehabilitation and nursing center and a pediatric medicine facility. Eleven people have died from the outbreak in the nursing home, according to the New Jersey health department.

How can I avoid contracting an adenovirus?

The CDC recommends people wash their hands often with soap and water, avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands and avoiding close contact with sick people.

How can people prevent the spread of adenoviruses?

People who contract adenoviruses should stay home when they are sick, cover their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoid sharing eating utensils, refrain from kissing and wash their hands often with soap and water.

Adenoviruses can remain on surfaces for long periods of time and are resistant to many common disinfectants. Check cleaner labels to ensure they will be effective against adenoviruses. It’s also important to maintain proper chlorine levels in pools.

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