Infant Illnesses | Spotlight on adenovirus

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"Most children will have had an adenovirus infection by the age of 10". (Getty Images)
"Most children will have had an adenovirus infection by the age of 10". (Getty Images)
  • If your baby's running a fever, has an eye infection or a runny tummy, he may have an adenovirus infection.
  • It is quite common in children younger than 10 years old.
  • A local expert says it "accounts for 5 to 10% of all childhood respiratory illnesses".

    Having a newborn baby is overwhelming enough, and if they show signs of illness, it can be really scary.

    Parent24 has put together a series on common infant illnesses to guide you when your baby is sick.

    Together with a local paediatrician or doctor, we'll help you decide when to panic. It's probably not as serious as you think, but let's be sure.

    Catch more instalments of our #infantillness series here.

    Typical concerns

    "My 2-year-old is running a fever and complains of a sore throat. Should I take him to a doctor?" - Concerned mom

    "My 7-month-old has a runny tummy. Is there something more serious that's causing it? - Worried dad


    It might be an adenovirus infection as it's usually the cause of a host of ailments, says a local expert.

    "Adenoviruses are a type of virus that commonly cause a wide range of diseases. Adenoviruses can cause eye inflammation (conjunctivitis), upper and lower respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis and haemorrhagic bladder infections," Dr Elelwani Mathivha tells Parent24.

    The Netcare Femina Hospital paediatrician says the infection is so common during childhood that by the age of 10 most children will have been ill due to an adenovirus infection.

    Babies and younger children are especially susceptible, Dr Mathivha notes.

    ALSO READ | Baby basics: A guide to safe, effective hygiene from birth

    Is it contagious and, if so, how does it spread?

    Mathivha says the infection spreads easily through close contact and is usually transmitted "through both droplets and via the faecal-oral route".

    "Adenovirus can be shed from the gastrointestinal tract for long periods causing a chronic low-level infection of the tonsils," she says.

    Symptoms to look out for

    Because adenoviruses present as so many different illnesses, symptoms prove just as broad, Mathivha says.

    Below she provides a list of ailments caused by adenoviruses: 

    Acute respiratory disease

    Adenovirus accounts for 5 to 10% of all childhood respiratory illnesses usually presenting as bronchiolitis (airway inflammation) or pneumonia (infection of lungs). About 20% of children with sore throat and fever have adenovirus infection.

    Eye infection/inflammation (conjunctivitis)

    This is usually self-limiting and doesn't require treatment.

    Gastrointestinal infections

    Diarrhoea is usually the presenting symptom, and 10% of all children with acute diarrhoea have an adenovirus infection.

    Haemorrhagic cystitis

    An acute onset of bloody urine, frequent urination with no apparent infection of microscopy noted. This condition is usually self-limiting and will resolve on its own within one to two weeks.

    Other rare complications include

    • Myocarditis
    • Hepatitis
    • Meningoencephalopathy

    How long will it last?

    "It depends on the specific infection. Incubation ranges from three to 14 days with an average of eight days. Infection can last between four and seven days. Chronic and more severe infections may last much longer – usually more than two weeks," Dr Mathivha says.

    Similar conditions

    The paediatrician says the infection has the potential of being misdiagnosed. The illnesses adenoviruses are easily confused with, Mathivha says, typically include: 

    • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
    • Human metapneumovirus
    • Human rhinovirus
    • Rotavirus
    • Group A streptococcal infections

    Can an adenovirus infection be treated at home?

    Home treatment is usually recommended once a diagnosis has been made, Mathivha says.

    "Only severe complicated cases may require hospitalisation," the paediatrician adds.

    When to call the doctor

    "Parents should seek help if the child has a sore throat and fever. This is particularly important to exclude Group A streptococcal infection, which can cause severe disease. Also, seek help if the child is short of breath or has signs of dehydration like dry mouth and decreased urine output," Dr Mathivha advises.

    ALSO READ | Readers share the rookie mistakes they made as first-time parents

    Tips and advice for parents

    Since the infection occurs through contact with soiled surfaces, Mathivha advises parents to maintain good hygiene practices to avoid infection.

    "Regular handwashing and cleaning of objects that could be potential vectors of transmission can help reduce the spread of disease."

    You can also ask a doctor or paediatrician directly via Health24 here: Ask an Expert


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