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Adenovirus in Children: Warning Signs and Complications

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There is a global surge in the adenovirus cases. It usually affects children below the age of five to six years and can affect their respiratory system.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham

Published At September 19, 2023
Reviewed AtSeptember 22, 2023

What Is Adenovirus?

Adenoviruses are nonenveloped viruses with a double-stranded DNA genome. They have an icosahedral nucleocapsid. More than 50 different variants of adenoviruses have been identified. They infect the lining of the respiratory tract, lungs, eyes, digestive tract, and urinary tract. In severe cases, it can affect the central nervous system. The respiratory infections such as bronchitis, pneumonitis occur most commonly, followed by conjunctivitis, diarrhea, and even meningitis in severe cases. The adenovirus infections can occur at any time of the year. It initially starts with common cold, or flu-like symptoms affecting people of any age group but most commonly children below five to six years of age are at a higher risk of developing the infection.

How Are Adenoviruses Transmitted?

The adenoviruses are highly contagious. The mode of transmission of the virus is mainly physical through person-to-person contact, infected respiratory droplets, and through coming in contact with infected surfaces. Children are likely to contract the infection through close contact sitting arrangements as in schools, daycare centers, and childcare centers. The outbreak of the virus can also occur at contaminated swimming pools, summer camps, or medical camps. Children below the age of five to six years usually put the infected items in their mouths, and do not practice proper hand washing. Adults may get the infection from hospital centers. Children with poor immune status can easily contract the infection.

What Is the Incubation Period of Adenoviruses?

After coming in contact with the adenovirus, a child usually develops the signs and symptoms after a few days. The incubation period is from three days to two weeks before the appearance of the clinical symptoms.

What Are the Clinical Symptoms of Adenovirus Infection?

  • The initial warning sign of the viral infection is development of a mild cold, or flu- like symptoms.

  • High fever may develop in children that may last for many days.

  • Nasal congestion, stuffy and runny nose may also develop.

  • An ear and throat infection might develop in some children. Children may frequently complain of ear pain and a sore throat.

  • In some children, the virus infection may spread to the airways and lungs causing bronchiolitis and pneumonia.

  • The infection when spread to the eyes of the children causes the symptoms of pink eye, also known as conjunctivitis.

  • Some strains of the adenovirus may affect the stomach and the digestive tract causing watery diarrhea, gastroenteritis, pain in the abdomen and abdominal cramps.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • The virus may even affect the urinary tract, causing urinary bladder infection. This can lead to pain while urinating and hematuria (blood in the urine).

  • In the long-term, the virus can even affect the central nervous system causing severe symptoms of meningitis, if left untreated.

What Are the Warning Signs of Adenovirus Infection?

The doctor should be called immediately as soon as the warning signs are observed in the children indicating illness. The most important warning signs to observe in the child include:

  • Very high fever, typically greater than 103 degrees Fahrenheit, or persistent fever for more than five to seven days.

  • Frequent watery stools.

  • Feeling of breathlessness.

  • Signs of dehydration (for instance, less than three wet diapers in an infant).

  • Reduced playing activity.

  • The child is less alert.

  • Fussy and irritated child.

  • Stuffy and runny nose.

  • Ear pain and sore throat.

  • Lack of sleep.

  • Pain in the chest.

  • Ear Drainage.

How to Diagnose Adenovirus Infection?

The doctor may perform certain diagnostic measures to identify the type of viral infection.

  • Nasal Swabs - A swab of the child’s nose is done and sent for laboratory diagnosis.

  • Urine Analysis - It includes urine tests and urine culture.

  • Stool tests - Stool culture test is usually done that involves collection and analysis of the fecal matter.

  • Blood Tests - Complete blood cell count is done where in the count of lymphocytes suggest a viral infection. Serology testing is preferred for testing the presence of virus-induced antibodies in blood.

  • Viral Antigen Detection Test - These assays are used to detect a specific viral antigen present in the body.

  • Polymerase Chain Reaction - This test is used to detect the genomic material of the virus.

How to Manage Adenovirus Infection?

There is no definitive medical cure for adenovirus infections. No antivirals have been approved by the doctors. Antibiotics will not show any effect on adenoviruses. Most infections caused by the adenovirus are mild. They can be managed with proper rest and over-the-counter painkillers or anti-pyretics that will help reduce the fever. The pain medicines will help alleviate the symptoms. The infection is self-limiting that can resolve on its own.

How to Make the Child Feel Better?

Medical treatment is not always required. Certain home remedies can be given to the child in case of mild infection. If the child has high fever, then only the medicine should be given because fever helps the immune system of the body to fight against infection. For nasal congestion, steam can be given. For a runny nose, a nasal can be given and then suction out the mucus using a bulb syringe. The child should be made to rest properly and plenty of water and electrolytes should be given to replenish the water dehydration. It is important to consult the doctor before giving any over-the-counter- drugs to the child. Mostly, the disease is self-limiting and the symptoms will be relieved. In cases of severe infection, it is crucial to admit the child in the hospital.

How to Prevent Adenovirus Infection In Children?

  • Maintain proper hygiene. Wash the hands of the child with soap and water everytime they come from outside. Good handwashing is crucial to prevent the spread of the infection.

  • Avoid sharing utensils with the children.

  • Refrain others from kissing them.

  • Always clean their toys and objects with a disinfectant because they have a habit of putting everything in their mouths.

  • Avoid taking children to overcrowded places.

  • If any family member is sick, refrain them from meeting the child.

  • There is no vaccine available. So, it is important to follow these preventive measures to protect the children from adenovirus infection.


Adenoviruses are a type of viruses that cause infection throughout the body. The virulence of the infection ranges from mild to even severe. It is important to consult a doctor as soon as the warning signs appear in the child because the disease can become fatal. There is no specific medical treatment for the infection. Therefore, it is important to follow the preventive measures to prevent the spread of the viral infection.

Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham
Dr. Veerabhadrudu Kuncham



adenovirus in children
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