We in the United States are currently in the throws of one of the most intense flu seasons in decades, with every state except Hawaii reporting high levels of activity from the virus, and there is nothing to suggest rate of incidence is even beginning to slow down. Even the CDC's interactive flu map is showing an explosion of new observable cases. By now, you are probably aware of the tell-tale signs you have the flu, or are hopefully taking precautions to prevent catching it. But what can be tricky about this particular virus is its similarity to other respiratory illnesses like the common cold. Perhaps the most similar (and seldom discussed) diagnosis is adenovirus; which begs the question how do you catch adenovirus?
Truth be told, trying to categorize the all the details of adenovirus into one restrictive box is not a very accurate depiction of the illness. So while it can cause respiratory symptoms similar to those caused by the influenza virus or the common cold, it can also be linked to conjunctivitis (pink eye), gastroenteritis (inflammation of the stomach and intestines), and even neurologic illnesses.
Like the flu, it is most commonly spread from one sick person to others. This can be done through close personal contact like touching, and through the mucus secretions in the air by coughing or sneezing. Though caution should be taken when touching objects accessible to the public (like doorknobs, elevator buttons, etc.), as the virus can also live on surfaces. Adenovirus has also been known to spread through water and and infected person's feces. So if you've been known to change a lot of diapers, be sure to wear disposable gloves (and remove them properly).
Now that you know the basics, you might be wondering if your efforts to prevent getting the flu are doing double-duty with adenovirus. In many ways, yes! Many of the things the CDC says to be the effective in reducing the risk of contracting adenovirus are also precautions you can take to prevent catching most other viruses. By frequently and thoroughly washing your hands, covering your coughs and sneezes, and keeping your distance from sick people, you are already doing most of what you can to prevent coming down with an adenovirus-related illness.
The biggest, and most frustrating difference between preventing the influenza virus and the adenovirus is that the latter does not have a preventative vaccine available to the public. If you happen to be between the ages of 17 and 50 and a member of the US Military, you might be able to procure one that protects from adenovirus types 4 and 7 — but otherwise, according to the CDC, you're most likely out of luck.
This time of year is tough for those prone to getting sick — be that because of underlying factors affecting one's immune system or just a tendency to pick up the nasty bugs that go around. It is extremely important to be attentive to preventative measures that can be taken to avoid getting sick. And since, “There's still going to be several weeks of influenza," Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases explains. "...if you’re unvaccinated, we strongly recommend that you do get vaccinated.”
As evidenced by adenovirus, though, vaccination is not always an option (and even when it is, you can still get sick!) So this (and every) season, make a diligent effort to wash your hands to keep from getting sick, and prevent the spread of illness. Be mindful of those at greater risk of contracting a certain illnesses, and, when it comes to adenovirus remember it does not only present like a cold. If you feel yourself having some tummy troubles or crusty, red eyes, make an appointment with your doctor.