Respiratory | Adenovirus

Adenoviruses, first isolated from an adenoid gland, encompass a large group of DNA viruses, many of which cause respiratory diseases. 

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Human adenoviruses are a large group of DNA viruses that were first isolated from an adenoid gland in 1953. There are more than 50 different serotypes of human adenoviruses, most of which cause respiratory diseases. Adenovirus infections are often asymptomatic in nature, but can cause a wide range of symptoms and illnesses, such as:


  • Colds

  • Sore throat (pharyngitis)

  • Bronchitis

  • Pneumonia 

  • Gastroenteritis and diarrhea

  • Pink eye (conjunctivitis)

  • Bladder inflammation or infection (cystitis)

  • Inflammation of stomach and intestines (gastroenteritis) 

  • Neurologic disease (meningitis and encephalitis)


Adenoviruses rarely cause serious illness or death. Although anyone can become infected by adenoviruses, infants and individuals with weakened immune systems, chronic respiratory or cardiac disease are at higher risk of getting seriously ill from an adenovirus infection. The virus also tends to be quite common among the military personnel, and can cause extended outbreaks of respiratory illness.

Infection with adenoviruses typically occurs as result of close contact with someone already infected, or by touching surfaces or objects that have adenoviruses on them and then touching the mouth, nose or eyes. Outbreaks of conjunctivitis caused by certain serotypes of adenoviruses have also been traced to inadequately chlorinated swimming pools or contaminated ophthalmic medications.

A vaccine against adenovirus types 4 and 7 was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March 2011 for U.S. military personnel only. The vaccine is not available to the public. Prevention of adenovirus infection requires careful attention to hygienic measures including:


  • Washing hands often with soap and water

  • Covering the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing

  • Not touching the eyes, nose or mouth

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick 

  • Staying home when ill

Adenovirus infections were traditionally diagnosed by cell culture since adenoviruses readily replicate in cell culture. Monoclonal antibodies are also used to detect infected cells using direct fluorescence antibody assays. Polymerase chain reaction methods that amplify and detect adenovirus DNA are also now becoming a commonly used laboratory method to confirm adenovirus infection.

Most adenovirus infections are mild and typically do not require much medical treatment outside of managing the symptoms. More serious adenovirus infections are managed by treating symptoms and complications of the infection. In some cases, cidofovir (a nucleotide analog) may be used to treat severe adenovirus infections in people with immunocompromised systems.



  1. Versalovic J, Carrol KC, Funke G, Jorgensen JH, Landry ML, Knipe DM, Howley PM, Griffin D, Warnock DW. (2001). Manual of Clinical Microbiology, 10th ed. Washington, D.C.: ASM Press. p. 1600.

  3. Lion T. Adenovirus infections in immunocompetent and immunocompromised patient. Clin Microbiol Rev. 2014 Jul;27(3):441-462.


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