Adenovirus Infection Strikes College Campuses

December 9, 2019



College students at the University of Wisconsin’s campuses in Madison, La Crosse, and Oshkosh have been told by state and school officials to wash their hands often because cases of human adenovirus (HAdV) infection are on the rise. Although university officials have confirmed at least 3 cases in emails to students, they have not elaborated or provided a complete accounting. That may be because there’s no way to know for certain since some of the symptoms of adenovirus are sore throat and runny nose, which people often mistake for a cold.  

There are more than 50 known strains of adenovirus, and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that other symptoms can include severe respiratory illness, pink eye, epidemic keratoconjunctivitis, gastroenteritis, and even death in people with weakened immune symptoms because it can cause pneumonia and organ failure. 

CDC says that clusters of the illness should be reported to local or state health officials. Whether what’s happening at the University of Wisconsin can be called a “cluster” is impossible to determine because there’s no reliable way to determine whether the cases are connected, Jennifer Miller, a Wisconsin Department of Health Services spokeswoman, tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Miller also says that “the message really is for college students, especially, at this time of year when there’s a lot going on and they’re burning the candle on both ends, that they take the time to take care of themselves.” 

Someone can contract adenovirus by breathing it in the air, having contact with someone who has it, or having contact with fecal matter, such as when someone changes a diaper. Health officials warn that adenoviruses can survive for a long time on surfaces and a common way to get it is by touching a contaminated surface and putting your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes. Wash toys, towels, and other surfaces often and when washing hands, it should be done with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

Investigators at Duke-NUS Medical School in Singapore earlier this year found at least 4 new strains of adenovirus, and 2 strains linked to severe illness seem to by increasing. A recent study, published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases, examined 500 clinical samples from pediatric and adult patients. Investigators identified the 4 new strains in an infant in Beijing during an epidemic in 2012-2013. 

Lead author Kristen Coleman, from the Emerging Infectious Diseases (EID) Program at Duke-NUS Medical School, said in a statement that “our results also highlight an increase in HAdV types 4 and 7 among the pediatric population over time. Importantly, patients with weakened immune systems and those with HAdV types 2, 4 or 7 were more likely to experience severe disease.”