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Adenoviruses - symptoms and transmission

Updated: Mar 27, 2023

Adenoviruses can cause a number of cold or flu-like infections. About 50 types of adenoviruses have been identified that can infect humans. Adenovirus infections occur throughout the year, but peak in winter and early spring. Infections range from mild to severe, but serious illness is rare.

Adenoviruses affect people of all ages, but are most common in children under the age of five. The spread of adenoviruses in infants and young children often occurs in kindergartens, where they are in close contact with each other.

The spread of adenoviruses among adults usually occurs in crowded places. People who spend time at institutions such as dormitories or military quarters are at a higher risk of contracting the virus. Adenoviruses are also commonly spread in hospitals and nursing homes.


Adenoviruses can cause mild to severe illness, although serious complications are rare. People with weakened immune systems or pre-existing respiratory or heart conditions are at higher risk of developing severe disease from adenovirus infection.

Adenoviruses can cause a wide range of illnesses such as:

  • common cold or flu-like symptoms

  • fever

  • sore throat

  • acute bronchitis (inflammation of the airways of the lungs, sometimes called a "cold")

  • pneumonia (lung infection)

  • pink eye (conjunctivitis)

  • acute gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach or intestines causing diarrhoea, vomiting, nausea and stomach pain).

Less common symptoms of the adenovirus infection include:

  • inflammation or infection of the bladder

  • neurological conditions that affect the brain and spinal cord

Adenoviruses are diagnosed following a symptoms and physical examination, as well as analysis of a stool sample to confirm the diagnosis. Rapid tests such as ROTADENO-Screen® are used to detect rotavirus and/or adenovirus in a stool sample.


Adenoviruses are usually spread from an infected person to others through close personal contact, including:

  • touching or shaking hands

  • through the air when coughing and sneezing

  • touching an object or surface with adenoviruses on it, then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes

Some adenoviruses can spread through the feces of an infected person, for example during a diaper change. Adenovirus can also spread through water, such as swimming pools, but this is less common.

Sometimes people are contagious for a long time after they recover from an adenovirus infection, especially when their immune system is weakened. This spreading of the virus usually occurs without any symptoms.


How are adenovirus infections treated? Most can be treated at home, including by:

  • resting

  • drinking enough fluids

  • taking paracetamol if the fever makes your child uncomfortable

  • using a humidifier or saltwater nasal drops to help children with congestion

Babies and children whose vomiting and diarrhoea prevent them from drinking enough fluids may need treatment for dehydration. Babies (especially newborns and premature babies), people with weak immune systems, and healthy children and adults with severe adenovirus infections may need antiviral medicine and treatment in a hospital, which may include fluids, oxygen, and breathing treatments.


If you are infected, you can help protect others by:

  • staying home when you are sick

  • coughing and sneezing into a tissue or the upper sleeve of your shirt, not your hands

  • avoiding sharing glasses and cutlery with other people

  • refraining from kissing others

  • washing your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after using the restroom.

Frequent hand washing is especially important in children's and healthcare facilities.

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