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A college student died from an adenovirus infection. But what is an adenovirus and should you worry?

Posted: 9:21 AM, Nov 27, 2018
Updated: 2018-11-28 14:58:51Z

BALTIMORE — The recent death of a University of Maryland, College Park student tied to an adenovirus infection has many worried about the potential dangers of such diseases that grow more common in the colder months of winter.

But Dr. Eric Almli, the vice chair of the Emergency Department at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore, is quick to add perspective about such worries.

“The important thing to say is I wouldn’t want there to be a lot of alarm about the adenovirus,” Almli said. “It’s very common. People get it all the time, and typically it’s treated symptomatically.”

Those symptoms are familiar to many, particularly during cold and flu season, largely because the adenovirus is a similar pathogen and manifests in similar ways in the body.

“Adenovirus is a very common virus this time of year; there are several types of adenoviruses,” Almli said. “It is typically implicated as a cause of the common cold, as well as occasionally some eye irritation as well as some GI symptoms, such as nausea and diarrhea.”

Sore throat, bronchitis, common cold, pneumonia, diarrhea, pink eye, fever, bladder inflammation or infection, inflammation of stomach and intestines and neurological disease are all listed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as adenovirus symptoms. 

“Adenoviruses can cause mild to severe illness,” according to the CDC’s website, “though serious illness is less common.”

“Adenovirus for most people is fairly well tolerated, and you’ll have some cold symptoms that eventually resolve with largely symptomatic management,” Almli said. “Occasionally, patients who have immunocompromised status, like HIV or if you’re on medications that can weaken the immune system, you may be more susceptible to severe reactions.”

That may have been the deciding factor for Olivia Paregol, the 18-year-old student who died November 18 from complications from respiratory infection likely caused by contracting adenoviruses. Ian Paregol, the girl’s father, said his daughter was immunosuppressed due to medication she was taking for Crohn’s disease, the Associated Press reported. 

The University of Maryland first “learned of an isolated case of a student with adenovirus on Nov. 1,” according to a Nov. 20 statement issued by Director of the University Health Center David McBride after Paregol’s death. The statement acknowledged the discovery of five additional cases of students with confirmed adenovirus infections. The school confirmed three more cases Monday. McBride’s statement said one specimen shared with the CDC was revealed to be Adenovirus 7, “a strain that may cause more severe illness.”

An infected person can spread adenoviruses through close personal contact like touching or shaking hands, through the air with a cough or a sneeze, through touching an object or surface that contains the viruses then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, or through an infected person’s stool, like when changing diapers, the CDC said. 

“The best thing you can do is wash your hands and clean your work environment regularly to reduce the incidents of spread,” Almli said. 

On top of frequent hand washing, the CDC recommends not touching your eyes, nose or mouth and avoiding close contact with sick people. If you are suffering from an adenovirus-related illness, you should stay home, cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoid sharing cups or utensils with others, refrain from intimate contact and wash your hands frequently. 

“We don’t even really test for it in the hospital; we usually just treat it symptomatically and it usually goes away without any problems,” Almli said. “If you’re concerned about the symptoms that you have I would call your doctor first. If you have any serious concerns about how you’re feeling you can always come to the emergency department.”