Adenovirus Infections in Infants and Children: What You Need to Know

Adenovirus infections in infants and children tend to appear with mild symptoms, however, we must pay attention to their evolution.
Adenovirus Infections in Infants and Children: What You Need to Know

Last update: 11 June, 2022

Adenovirus infections are common in the entire population and generally cause mild and self-limiting symptoms. However, in infants and children, the infections they cause can be more aggressive and affect different body systems.

Find out below what diseases these viruses cause and how to prevent them.

What are adenoviruses and how are they transmitted?

Adenoviruses are members of a large viral family called Adenoviridae. At least 57 subspecies (or serotypes) capable of affecting humans have been identified, which are classified into 7 species ranging from A to G. Each of them is associated with a different type of infection:

  • A: affect the gastrointestinal system and cause gastroenteritis.
  • B: infect the respiratory system and the ocular apparatus. They cause catarrh, pneumonia, and conjunctivitis.
  • D: have a predilection for the ocular system and cause outbreaks of conjunctivitis.
  • E: affect the respiratory and ocular systems.
  • Serogroups F and G: cause gastrointestinal infections.

One of the main characteristics of infections caused by adenoviruses is that they tend to be self-limiting, i.e., they subside after a few days without specific treatment.

Adenovirus infections can certainly affect people of any age, but they’re more common during childhood, especially in children under 5 years of age.

In general, adenovirus infections in children are frequent, short course, and mild. However, there are cases of more severe and even fatal infections.

A study published this year, which collected clinical data on some children hospitalized for adenovirus infections between 2005 and 2020, found that 5% of them required intensive care and that 49% of them were previously healthy. Although some deaths from this cause were reported, all deceased children had some underlying disease.

A sick little girl lying on the couch.
Adenoviruses are a common cause of childhood illness. They cause infections in different body systems and are quite contagious.

Adenovirus transmission routes

Adenoviruses are highly contagious viruses, which are transmitted by direct person-to-person contact in two ways: Through inhalation of infected respiratory droplets or by contact with a contaminated surface. Thus, their transmission can occur through air, water, and the fecal-oral route.

The Adenoviridae family has a worldwide distribution and can cause outbreaks and epidemics at any time of the year.

In children, this virus is easily transmissible, as they frequently put objects in their mouths and their hand washing is often deficient. For this reason, schools and day-care centers are often the epicenters of outbreaks.

Typical symptoms of adenovirus infections in infants and children

In most healthy people, adenovirus infections are asymptomatic or mild. However, in infants and children, who lack immune memory due to their young age, the infection is usually a little more significant.

The incubation period of adenovirus ranges from 2 days to 2 weeks and after this period, the symptomatic stage begins. The following are the most characteristic manifestations of each type of infection.

General symptoms

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen glands in the neck, armpits, abdomen, or groin

Symptoms of respiratory infection

  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Cough
  • Difficulty breathing (for example, in cases of pneumonia)

Gastrointestinal symptoms

Urinary tract symptoms

  • Increased frequency of urination
  • Burning and pain during urination
  • Presence of blood in the urine (in cases of hemorrhagic cystitis)

Conjunctivitis

  • Edema of the eyelids
  • Red and irritated eyeball
  • Itching or gritty sensation in the eyes when blinking
  • Yellowish secretions emanating from the tear ducts

Diagnosis of adenovirus infections

The diagnosis of adenovirus is made by a pediatrician by means of physical examination and evaluation of the child’s symptoms.

If the specialist considers it necessary, they may order some tests to isolate the virus, such as a nasal swab or the analysis of ocular, respiratory, stool, or urine secretions.

In most cases, complementary tests aren’t necessary, as the clinical picture resolves on its own after a few days. In general, they’re reserved for cases of severe infection requiring hospitalization.

A girl with respiratory problems seeing a pediatrician.
The diagnosis of adenovirus infections is clinical. That’s to say, they require a detailed physical examination and a good evaluation of the child’s condition.

How are adenovirus infections in infants and children treated?

As they’re viral infections, there’s no curative treatment and children usually recover on their own. In any case, if treatment is indicated, it will be aimed at calming the symptoms of the infection and not at eradicating the cause.

Can adenoviruses cause hepatitis?

In recent times, adenovirus F41 has gained great popularity, due to certain hypotheses that link it to the current outbreak of childhood hepatitis.

In this regard, it should be noted that this subtype is associated with gastrointestinal diseases. And in certain contexts, such as previous illnesses or the age of the child, it can cause more serious conditions, such as hepatitis.

Experts believe that a new, more aggressive subtype of adenovirus or F41 itself may be attacking children whose immune systems have been “weakened” after being confined by SARS-COV2.

Certainly, before asserting this hypothesis, it’s important to wait for the results of more conclusive studies.

Can adenovirus infections be prevented?

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, adenoviruses are easily transmitted microorganisms, but their infections can be prevented with some hygienic measures:

  • Avoid contact with infected children.
  • Teach, supervise, and encourage the child to perform proper HAND WASHING.
  • Clean surfaces that the child touches, such as floors, tables, and toys daily.
  • Avoid having the child share personal items with other children, such as thermoses, cups, towels, or toothbrushes.
  • Teach children to cough and sneeze into the crook of the elbow or use tissues.
  • Offer only clean water and well-washed food.

Although adenovirus infections are usually mild, it’s important to pay attention to the symptoms presented by the little ones during infection and to consult the pediatrician if any doubt arises.

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