Adenovirus cases at University Park linked to type 4 strain

November 21, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Adenovirus cases on Penn State’s University Park campus have been on the rise during the fall semester, and lab testing performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified the specific subtype present on campus as adenovirus type 4.

Adenoviruses are common viruses that cause a range of illnesses. Adenovirus 4 can cause more severe symptoms — such as sore throat, fever, cough, pink eye (conjunctivitis), pneumonia and gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting or diarrhea — than other strains of adenoviruses. Adenovirus 4 is more likely to cause complications and hospitalization, according to medical professionals. People with weakened immune systems or existing respiratory or cardiac disease are at higher risk of developing a severe illness.

Adenoviruses are usually spread from an infected person to others through close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands; the air from coughing or sneezing; contact with stool/feces; and touching an object or surface with the viruses, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes before washing your hands. 

“University Park is experiencing an adenovirus type 4 outbreak,” said Shelley Haffner, infectious disease manager and campus liaison for Penn State University Health Services. “Although it is not uncommon to see adenoviruses circulating at this time of year, an outbreak of adenovirus type 4 is significant, particularly for those people who are at risk for developing severe illness. People who are immunocompromised or have chronic health conditions have a greater risk of developing complications from these viruses. Much like the cold and flu viruses that also circulate during colder weather, strategies such as good hand-washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and not engaging in activities that spread saliva, can help prevent illness from these pathogens. Adenoviruses can survive on surfaces for a prolonged time period and are also resistant to many disinfectants. Disinfectants that contain bleach work best against this virus.”

Most people who develop an adenovirus infection will recover on their own without the need for medical intervention. Sometimes severe illness and complications, including pneumonia, can occur, so anyone who develops a high fever, difficulty or discomfort with breathing, or frequent diarrhea or vomiting should contact their health care provider immediately.

Haffner said that because symptoms of adenovirus illness are similar to other viral illnesses, it is often confused with influenza. Although the flu vaccine won’t protect against adenoviruses, it is a key prevention tool for the flu and is recommended annually for everyone over the age of 6 months. 

There are several different adenovirus subtypes that can cause illness. While there is currently no adenovirus vaccine available to the general public, you can protect yourself and others from many illnesses by following these preventive measures:

  • Wash your hands regularly, for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoid sharing personal items, such as eating or drinking utensils.
  • Minimize close contact with persons who have symptoms of respiratory illnesses, such as a cough or sneeze.
  • Maintain a clean environment. Use disinfectants that contain bleach to clean frequently touched surfaces.
  • Get vaccinated against the flu. Some respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, can be prevented with a vaccine.

If you have any symptoms previously stated, schedule an appointment with UHS by visiting myUHS or call the UHS Advice Nurse at 814-863-4463.

Below are answers to frequently asked questions about adenoviruses:

What is adenovirus? What are the symptoms?

Adenoviruses are common viruses that cause a range of illness. They can cause cold or flu-like symptoms, fever, sore throat, bronchitis, pneumonia, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and pink eye. Once you are exposed to adenovirus, the period before symptoms appear (incubation period) usually varies from two days to two weeks. Most people will have symptoms in five to six days after exposure. A person also can become ill from the virus already being in the body (latent infection) and becoming active again (re-activating).

How can I protect myself from getting an adenovirus?

An adenovirus infection is passed through saliva and respiratory secretions. Students are urged not to share food or drinks, and not to engage in activities where drinks are shared or where the virus can be passed through saliva exposure. A person can get the virus from touching surfaces or things a person with infection has coughed or sneezed on or touched. The virus can survive for up to 30 days on environmental surfaces.

In addition, frequent hand-washing and respiratory etiquette are encouraged to help prevent spread of the disease.

What should I do if I contract adenovirus? What is the treatment?

While there is no treatment for adenoviruses, University Health Services is advising that anyone who develops symptoms get plenty of rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take over-the-counter pain medication to ease symptoms. Students also are urged to stay home when they are sick and avoid activities where food or drinks are shared or where the virus can be passed through saliva exposure. Contact a health care provider immediately if symptoms worsen instead of improving, and if you develop shortness of breath, pain with breathing, or have a chronic illness that could increase the risk of more severe illness and complications. The UHS Advice Nurse line is available 24/7 by calling 814-863-4463.

For additional information, review the following resources:

Last Updated November 22, 2019