The news has been filled with reports of 7 deaths in New Jersey related to adenovirus. According to CNN, this is related to an outbreak among “medically fragile” children at the Wanaque Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation. This virus may not be a familiar name to many of the public. Things like the flu, whooping cough, or chicken pox are well known illnesses, but adenovirus does not frequently cause a national conversation.
So, what is adenovirus? It is a virus that can cause a wide range of illnesses, especially in children who are more susceptible to illness in general. According to Cedars-Sinai, in children, it can cause respiratory illness, colds, pink eye, croup, bronchitis, and pneumonia. It can even cause digestive tract infections, depending on the route of transmission from one person to another. While many people experience mild illness with symptoms of the common cold, some people- especially children, can experience complications such as chronic lung disease, severe infection or intussusception (telescoping of the intestine onto itself). Some strains of adenovirus are known to be very severe and can cause serious illness, especially in communal living situations where the virus can easily be passed from one person to another. The challenge with this pathogen is that it can be difficult to get rid of. It can live on plastic and metal surfaces for a month, making some medical equipment (often composed of these materials) susceptible to the virus. Additionally, some cleaners do not kill the virus easily, so precautions must be made to ensure that surfaces and equipment are cleaned properly.
Due to its resiliant nature, adenovirus has been linked to a number of outbreaks over the years. In fact, the military even vaccinates its personnel against the disease because they have increased risk of infection due to their close living quarters. The current outbreak is due to a failure of the healthcare facility to provide a clean and adequate physical environment and their deficiencies in sanitation allowed a severe strain of the virus to thrive- infecting children with compromised health.
Just like most viruses, adenovirus is present in our every day environment. What can you do to keep yourself healthy? The CDC recommends general hygiene practice as the best prevention method. This includes washing your hands with soap and water (especially after going to the bathroom), avoiding close contact with sick individuals, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands. These are simple steps that can help prevent both the common cold and serious illness.