The Grapevine

What Is Adenovirus? Maryland Student Dies From Complications After Infection

Authorities at the University of Maryland confirmed the death of a student who suffered from an adenovirus-related illness. The university health center sought to raise awareness about the virus and urged the community to stay alert.

Adenoviruses are a group of viruses that lead to respiratory infections with complications ranging from mild to severe. Given the similar symptoms, adenovirus infections are often mistaken for the flu.

Olivia Paregol, 18, was a freshman at the university who had a weakened immune system as a result of the medication she took for Crohn’s disease. Though she initially only developed a cough, her health slowly declined over the semester. Eventually, she contracted pneumonia before passing away from complications. 

In a letter released Tuesday, the university acknowledged her death and revealed that five other students have also been infected with the adenovirus this month. 

Pneumonia and respiratory failure are among the most dangerous complications one could face from infection. As seen in the case of Paregol, it could even prove to be fatal for people with pre-existing health conditions. 

“When the virus gets into the lungs it can cause damage to the lungs and often you’ll get what’s called a superinfection or a bacterial infection on top of it, which can also be very serious,” explained Dr. Scott Krugman of Sinai Hospital, Baltimore.

Fortunately, most cases of adenovirus infections are mild. and may require only care to help relieve symptoms. While there is no specific form of treatment, a person can typically recover from the infection with adequate rest, fluids, etc. 

"Adenovirus is something that has always been around and always caused respiratory infections — nothing has changed," said infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, of the John's Hopkins Center for Health Security. "The vast majority of adenovirus infections result in the common cold and don’t merit much worry."

There are more than 50 different strains of the virus which are all linked to different illnesses. Furthermore, it is hard to differentiate the infection from the flu without getting a lab test done.

One can take note of the timing if they have doubts about their symptoms, according to Dr. Adalja. Unlike the flu seasons we have in the United States, adenovirus infection does not have a "striking seasonality," he said.

While outbreaks can occur during any time of the year, they are more likely to take place during late winter, spring, and early summer as stated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Prevention involves basic steps such as regular handwashing, refraining from sharing utensils, avoiding close contact with potentially sick individuals, and more. This was emphasized in the university statement, also urging people to never ignore worrying symptoms and get checked by a physician within 48 hours.