AskDefine | Define adenovirus

Dictionary Definition

adenovirus n : any of a group of viruses including those that in humans cause upper respiratory infections or infectious pinkeye

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Any virus of the family Adenoviridae, many of which are responsible for respiratory infections in humans

Extensive Definition

Adenoviruses are medium-sized (90–100 nm), nonenveloped (naked) icosahedral viruses composed of a nucleocapsid and a double-stranded linear DNA genome. There are over 52 different serotypes in humans, which are responsible for 5–10% of upper respiratory infections in children, and many infections in adults as well.
Viruses of the family Adenoviridae infect various species of animals, including humans. Adenoviruses were first isolated in human adenoids (tonsils), from which the name is derived, and are classified as group I under the Baltimore classification scheme. Adenoviruses represent the largest nonenveloped viruses, because they are the maximum size able to be transported through the endosome (i.e. envelope fusion is not necessary). The virion also has a unique "spike" or fiber associated with each penton base of the capsid (see picture below) that aids in attachment to the host cell via the coxsackie-adenovirus receptor on the surface of the host cell. There are 51 immunologically distinct human adenovirus serotypes (6 species: Human adenovirus A through F) that can cause human infections ranging from respiratory disease (mainly species HAdV-B and C), and conjunctivitis (HAdV-B and D), to gastroenteritis (HAdV-F serotypes 40 and 41). Adenoviruses are unusually stable to chemical or physical agents and adverse pH conditions, allowing for prolonged survival outside of the body and water. Adenoviruses are primarily spread via respiratory droplets, however they can also be spread by fecal routes as well.
Most infections with adenovirus result in infections of the upper respiratory tract. Adenovirus infections often show up as conjunctivitis, tonsilitis (which may look exactly like strep throat and cannot be distinguished from strep except by throat culture), an ear infection, or croup. Adenoviruses can also cause gastroenteritis (stomach flu). A combination of conjunctivitis and tonsilitis is particularly common with adenovirus infections. Some children (especially small ones) can develop adenovirus bronchiolitis or pneumonia, both of which can be severe. In babies, adenoviruses can also cause coughing fits that look almost exactly like whooping cough. Adenoviruses can also cause viral meningitis or encephalitis. Rarely, adenovirus can cause cystitis (inflammation of the urinary bladder—a form of urinary tract infection—with blood in the urine).
Most people recover from adenovirus infections by themselves, but people with immunodeficiency sometimes die of adenovirus infections, and—rarely—even previously healthy people can die of these infections.
Adenoviruses are often transmitted by coughed-out droplets, but can also be transmitted by contact with an infected person, or by virus particles left on objects such as towels and faucet handles. Some people with adenovirus gastroenteritis may shed the virus in their stools for months after getting over the symptoms. The virus can be passed from one person to another through some sexual practices, and through water in swimming pools that do not have enough chlorine in them. As with many other illnesses, good handwashing is one way to lessen the spread of adenoviruses from one person to another. Heat and bleach will kill adenoviruses on objects.

Treatment and prevention

As with almost all viruses, there are no antibiotics that help with an adenoviral infection, so treatment is largely directed at the symptoms (such as acetaminophen for fever). A doctor may give antibiotic eyedrops for conjunctivitis, since it takes a while to test to see if the eye infection is bacterial or viral and to help prevent secondary bacterial infections.
In the past, US military recruits were vaccinated against two serotypes of adenotypes, with a corresponding decrease in illnesses caused by those serotypes. The vaccine is no longer manufactured, and there are currently no vaccines available to protect against the adenovirus. Good hygiene, including handwashing, is still the best way to avoid picking up the adenovirus from an infected person.


The adenovirus genome is linear, non-segmented double stranded (ds) DNA which is around 30–38 Kbp. This allows the virus to theoretically carry 30 to 40 genes. Although this is significantly larger than other viruses in its Baltimore group it is still a very simple virus and is heavily reliant on the host cell for survival and replication. An interesting feature of this viral genome is that it has a terminal 55 kDa protein associated with each of the 5' ends of the linear dsDNA, these are used as primers in viral replication and ensure that the ends of the virus' linear genome are adequately replicated.


Adenoviruses possess a linear dsDNA genome and are able to replicate in the nucleus of mammalian cells using the host’s replication machinery.

Adenoviruses in humans

Adenoviruses in animals

Two types of canine adenoviruses are well known, type 1 and 2. Type 1 causes infectious canine hepatitis, a potentially fatal disease involving vasculitis and hepatitis. Type 1 infection also can cause respiratory and eye infections. Canine adenovirus 2 (CAdV-2) is one of the potential causes of kennel cough. Core vaccines for dogs include attenuated live CAdV-2, which produces immunity to CAdV-1 and CAdV-2. CAdV-1 was initially used in a vaccine for dogs, but corneal edema was a common complication.
Adenoviruses are also known to cause respiratory infections in horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, and goats. Equine adenovirus 1 can also cause fatal disease in immunocompromised Arabian foals, involving pneumonia and destruction of pancreatic and salivary gland tissue.
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