I've got bad news for hypochondriacs everywhere: It's not just the flu epidemic that should have you worried right now. If I had to guess, you've probably never concerned yourself with what adenoviruses are, let alone even heard of them, but you might want to keep this class of viruses on your radar. Adenoviruses mimic the flu, but they don't respond to flu vaccinations. So, if you're feeling under the weather and all of your symptoms mirror that of the current flu epidemic, but you've been told it's not the flu, you might want to double-check what exactly is invading your body.
CNN reports that adenoviruses are similar to the flu primarily through the symptoms that present in your body. These symptoms include a runny nose, sore throat, cough, fever, headache, and diarrhea, all of which can often be associated with the flu.
Since the flu epidemic has been especially severe this year, with over 17,000 hospitalizations so far since October 2017, and over a month left of prime flu season, it's normal that your attention would be on the flu specifically. But an adenovirus works differently than the flu in several ways, and it's worth it to stay on top of both viruses.
An adenovirus presents itself almost identically to the flu, except for one symptom unique to adenoviruses: pink eye.
Conjunctivitis (the fancy medical term for pink eye) is a common symptom of an adenovirus, particularly in children, that doesn't tend to present itself with the regular flu. Besides that one symptom, though, it would be pretty hard, if not nearly impossible, to distinguish an adenovirus from a regular flu without going to see a doctor and getting blood work done.
Unfortunately, the regular flu vaccination doesn't protect against adenoviruses. There is an adenovirus vaccine, but it's only available to the military, according to CNN.
So where does that leave you, now that you know about another worrisome virus (which sounds like a sickness from a Transformers movie, if you ask me), and you don't exactly have a foolproof way to prevent it?
The best way to protect yourself from an adenovirus is to simply take the same precautions you would against the flu.
Adenoviruses are spread via direct contact. In other words, the virus travels through coughing, sneezing, and shaking hands with an infected person. Other ways to catch the virus (similarly to the flu) are through touching infected objects, like door handles or teakettles, which is why it's so important to wash your hands as often as possible throughout the flu season.
Here's the slight complication: Adenoviruses, unlike the flu, aren't seasonal. You can catch an adenovirus infection at any time throughout the year, whereas flu season is typically contained to the winter months. So yeah, you need to be on high alert in all four seasons of the year — well, not necessarily high alert, but it's a great excuse to keep practicing good hygiene throughout the year, not just during the months where you're jam-packed in a subway car with a crowd of snifflers.
There is some good news, though: Adenovirus cases, though potentially as dangerous and deadly as the flu (mostly with the elderly and children), are far less common. There have only been two relatively large outbreaks in recent history, both of which happened in Oregon, and neither resulted in a significant number of fatalities.
If you think you have an adenovirus, you should approach it the same way you would with the regular flu.
Your best bet is to always go see a medical professional as soon as you can, so that you have a better idea of what you're actually working with. Beyond that, continue to make it a point to wash your hands often, stay away from your sick friends, and try to avoid staying in highly congested places for too long.
Stay healthy, everyone!