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URGENT: Children with Chronic Illnesses at Risk for Adenovirus Complications

KinderMender has noticed a recent uptick in adenoviruses, a group of common viruses that can infect the lining of the respiratory tract, urinary tract, eyes, and nervous system.

The increase is particularly notable, as it arrives on the heels of an outbreak at a New Jersey health care facility that affected 35 individuals and resulted in 11 deaths.

Adenovirus complications also contributed to the recent and tragic passing of a University of Maryland student, who died from pneumonia resulting from the virus earlier this month.

The virus’s prominence in news feeds and headlines has many parents on high-alert, and understandably so. But what should we really be looking for?

What Are Adenoviruses?

Adenoviruses are an incredibly common group of viruses; the usual suspects for many ailments such as the common cold, bronchitis, croup, sore throats, fever, diarrhea, and more. These viruses are similar to so many others which manifest with symptoms such as respiratory distress and gastroenteritis.

While typically manifesting with symptoms shared by so many other viruses, one recurring telltale sign of adenovirus is the onset of dramatic pink eye; red and bloodshot and frequently void of pus or discharge normally linked with the condition. Like its cousin parainfluenza, adenovirus is also often accompanied by a searing sore throat.

Adenoviruses are spread through coughs and sneezes that disperse droplets containing infective agents. When children – or adults – share toys, shake hands, touch doorknobs and faucets and elevator buttons, or change diapers – and then touch their mouth or eyes, the virus takes hold.

Adenoviruses are highly contagious and tend to propagate in densely populated areas, such as daycares and schools. Children, too, are prime vehicles for these viruses, as they share close quarters and are not as concerned with regular hand-washing and hygiene as their parents might hope they’d be. But while infections tend to manifest in children more so than adults (most children will have endured at least one bout by the age of 10), adenovirus is not discriminatory by age – and anyone can contract them.

When Do They Become Dangerous?

Some viruses – such as influenza – are extremely dangerous to all people, across the board. What sets these broadly damaging viruses apart, is that they change. The flu, for example, is constantly evolving. Because strains change so frequently, our bodies cannot rely on their “muscle memory” of previous infections to create a proper defense. Young or old, when we contract the flu, we tend to get sick, and get sick severely.

Adenoviruses, on the other hand, are unchanging. They strike sporadically, affecting younger children, by and large, because their immune systems have not developed a defense to a particular strain.

They are also of particular threat to individuals whose immune systems have been compromised, either internally from chronic illness, such as Asthma – or from external influences such as immunosuppressant medications, like steroids.

The individuals affected by adenovirus in New Jersey, for instance, suffered from weakened immune systems and other severe medical conditions. In cases like these, one additional complication can often be devastating, and can even lead to fatalities.

The key to addressing this particular group of illnesses, then, is pinpointing one’s propensity for adenovirus complications, and taking steps to ensure one’s already compromised defenses aren’t entirely depleted or wiped out.

Timing is Everything

Unlike their nasty brethren – RSV, influenza, and para-influenza – adenoviruses do not follow a set pattern or arrive during a certain season.  Adding insult to injury, symptoms tend to overlap for these maladies, making them difficult to differentiate from one another.

There is currently no rapid antigen test used to diagnose adenoviruses, and – honestly – no real need for it.

Antibiotics are entirely useless against viral infections, making the standard course of action rest, plenty of fluids, and the administration of Tylenol or Ibuprofen for comfort and to lower a child’s fever.

We are currently at the peak of para-influenza season, with RSV and influenza steadily on the rise. The change in seasons has also resulted in a tremendous wave of fall allergens.

Young children and immunocompromised individuals are at heightened risk for any and all of these ailments, making it much more imminent to be aware of one’s odds for adenovirus complications.

Preventative measures should be taken to minimize contamination of surfaces, isolate children who are sick or symptomatic, and encourage proper and perpetual handwashing.

For many chronic conditions, there are medical precautions that can be taken prior to the onset of potentially exacerbating factors. Asthma control, for instance, uses medications in anticipation of respiratory triggers and allows sufferers to set themselves up for fewer complications, instead of being blindsided and sustaining greater harm.

Seeking care early is paramount to preventing adenovirus complications. Not needing to wait a day or two to be examined can be critical, as a lot can happen in a short amount of time.

At the end of the day, adenoviruses are incredibly common, and most people will never have a severe reaction to them. But many exacerbating factors can come together to make a common virus lethal.

Don’t Wait

KinderMender regularly treats illnesses caused by adenovirus.

If you believe your child is experiencing adenovirus symptoms, don’t delay. Our physicians know what to look for and how best to help your child feel better, faster. And because our four convenient Maryland locations are open daily, including the holidays, you will never have to wait for days before receiving help.

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