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Ill adult blowing nose with used tissues and meds on table.

Adenoviruses are a group of common viruses that cause a range of illnesses. These viruses can cause the common cold, fever, bronchitis, sore throat, diarrhea, and pink eye.

Anyone can get sick from an adenovirus. People with a weakened immune system, or those who have lung or heart problems are more likely to become very sick from an adenovirus. There are more than 50 types of adenoviruses that can infect people.

These viruses are easily spread from person to person. People usually get sick with adenoviruses when they spend time with large groups of people (for example, universities, hospitals, or schools). It is important to take steps to protect yourself and others from these viruses.

For weekly case count updates for all respiratory viruses in Wisconsin, see the Weekly Respiratory Surveillance Report, P-02346. 

Adenovirus 101

Adenoviruses can make you sick any time of the year. Usually adenoviruses cause mild illness, but sometimes they can be serious. If you have a weakened immune system, or have lung or heart problems, you are more likely to get very sick from an adenovirus.

There are a number of ways you can get an adenovirus:

  1. Breathing in adenovirus from the air: Someone with the virus coughs or sneezes and the virus gets into the air. It is then breathed in by someone around them.
  2. Having direct contact with someone who has an adenovirus: Touching or shaking hands with someone who has the virus on their skin and then touching your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes.
  3. Touching surfaces with adenovirus: Touching a surface (for example, a door knob, counter top, or phone) with adenovirus on it and then touching your hands to mouth, nose, or eyes. Note: Adenoviruses are able to survive on surfaces for a long time. It is important to wash toys, towels, and other surfaces often to make sure it doesn't spread to others.
  4. Having contact with poop: Some adenoviruses can spread through poop, for example, during diaper changing.
  5. Having contact with water that has adenovirus: Adenoviruses can also spread through water, such as swimming pools, but this is less common.

Note: Sometimes the virus can be shed (released from the body) for a long time after you recover from an adenovirus, especially if you have a weakened immune system. Usually you do not have any symptoms during this time of “virus shedding,” even though you can still spread adenovirus to others.

Symptoms usually start two days to two weeks after getting an adenovirus. Adenoviruses are common causes of fevers and other illnesses, such as:

  • Common cold
  • Sore throat
  • Pinkeye
  • Croup (an infection in the upper airway that obstructs breathing and causes a barking cough)
  • Bronchitis (inflammation of the airways of the lungs)
  • Pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
  • Bladder infection
  • Neurologic disease (illnesses that affect your brain and spinal cord)
  • Diarrhea (usually in children younger than 4 years)

The types of symptoms depend on which type of adenovirus you have and the part of the body that the virus is affecting.

There are no specific treatments for illnesses caused by these viruses. Most people will recover on their own. You can relieve your symptoms by:

  • Taking pain or fever medications (note: never give aspirin to children),
  • Using a room humidifier or taking a hot shower to help ease a sore throat and cough,
  • Drinking plenty of liquids to stay hydrated, and
  • Staying home and resting.

If you are concerned about your symptoms, contact your health care provider.

Adenoviruses can spread easily to others. Follow these steps to protect yourself and those around you from adenoviruses and other respiratory illnesses:

If you’re sick, you can help to protect others:

  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
  • Do not share cups and eating utensils with others.
  • Do not kiss others.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after using the bathroom, blowing your nose, or coughing.
  • Washing your hands often is especially important in child care settings and health care facilities.
  • Food workers with diarrhea or vomiting should stay home for 24 hours after they are well so they do not spread the virus to others.

No vaccine is available to the general public to prevent adenoviruses. There is currently an adenovirus vaccine for U.S. military use only. A vaccine specific for adenovirus types 4 and 7 was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in March 2011, for use only in U.S. military personnel who may be at higher risk for infection from these two adenovirus types. For more information about the vaccine, see Adenovirus Vaccine Information Statement (VIS).

Most people get adenovirus in the winter and early spring, though infections can happen any time of year.

Seasonality of Adenovirus

Individual cases of adenovirus are not reportable in Wisconsin. However, clusters of three or more unrelated persons with similar clinical signs and symptoms should be reported to the local health department.

Questions about adenovirus? Contact us!
Phone: 608-267-9003 | Fax: 608-261-4976

Last revised November 21, 2023