As the flu outbreak wreak havoc on American families, doctors are warning of a lesser-known virus that is just as threatening.
The adenovirus — which often infects the airways and the intestinal tract — shares several symptoms with the flu, including congestion, sore throat, cough and fever, and can cause the common cold.
Like the flu, adenovirus, which occurs more often in children than adults, can be fatal – an outbreak killed 10 people in the US in 2007.
The vaccine to prevent the flu is is licensed with US military personnel only, but doctors say the adenovirus is a serious threat and the exclusive vaccine should be made available to everyone.
The adenovirus shares several symptoms with the flu, including congestion, sore throat, cough and fever, and can cause the common cold
‘We are seeing severe adult infections,’ Dr Adriana Kajon, lead study author of a CDC report published this week in Emerging Infectious Disease, told NBC News. ‘That’s a big deal, especially for a disease that by all means is vaccine preventable. But this vaccine is not licensed to be used in civilians.’
Adenoviruses, which are very common, are caused by a group of viruses that can infect the urinary tract, nervous system, airways and lungs. Some strains can cause an eye infection.
The illness, which is a common cause of fever, sore throats, the pink eye, and diarrhea, are usually spread from an infected person to another by way of close personal contact, coughing and sneezing.
Outbreaks are common among those in closed quarters like schools or prisons.
A previous report During 2007, a strain of the virus called adenovirus 14, dubbed the killer cold virus, caused outbreaks in New York, Oregon, Washington and Texas, according to a 2017 CDC report.
‘Whether you’re a healthy young adult, an infant or an elderly person, this virus can cause severe respiratory disease at any age,’ John Su, who investigates infectious diseases for the CDC and contributed to the 2017 report, told Reuters.
During that year, about 140 people were sickened by the virus and more than 50 hospitalized, including 24 admitted to intensive care units, according to the CDC.
Adenoviruses rarely cause serious illness or death, according to the CDC, but people with weakened immune systems, or existing respiratory or cardiac disease have a higher risk of developing a severe infection.
In a healthy person, the adenovirus is usually mild and is resolved within a week, according to Dr Ananya Mandal, an associate professor at the Bankura Sammilanin Medical College.
However, in a recent report, Kajon and her colleagues described the case of a healthy 43-year-old woman who contracted the illness in 2012.
During the hospital stay she suffered brain swelling and bleeding. The adenovirus developed into pneumonia, respiratory failure, and anuria — which occurs when the kidneys don’t produce urine.
The condition is so risky, yet only US military recruits are vaccinated against two major strains of the disease.
Furthermore, doctors aren’t even testing for the condition.
‘Unless you look for it or you suspect it’s circulating or you are using diagnostic testing capabilities that can tell it apart, you are going to miss it, especially during flu season,’ said Kajon, an infectious disease specialist at the Lovelace Respiratory Research Institute in Albuquerque.
However, according to Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, this is because adenoviruses are causing illnesses particularly in military recruits.
In fact, a report published in the Emerging Infectious Diseases said adenoviruses are commonly isolated in military recruits. So common that the Department of Defense administers the vaccine to new members.
The vaccine against adenovirus types 4 and 7 was approved by the FDA in March 2011.
However, Kajon and her colleagues said the vaccine, which is administered orally, should be available to civilians.
‘On the basis of the severity of the clinical presentation of some cases in this study, the (adenovirus) vaccine currently licensed for military use should be considered a potentially valuable resource to prevent disease in susceptible populations living in closed communities, such as college settings, summer camps, and long-term care facilities,’ they wrote.
Adenoviruses can be diagnosed using a blood, urine or swab, or stool test, and chest x-ray.
‘Usually symptoms are used to diagnose adenovirus infections,’ Dr Mandal said. ‘There are however laboratory serological tests that help in the diagnosis of adenovirus infections. These tests are useful during outbreaks of this infection.’
People can reduce their risk of catching the adenovirus the same way the would the flu — washing their hands, covering their mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, avoid touching their eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands, or by avoiding people who are sick.