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State health dept. investigates adenovirus outbreak on college campuses

Special for the Metro Wire

The Wisconsin Department of Health Services is investigating multiple cases of adenovirus infection on college campuses around the state. Adenovirus infections most commonly cause respiratory illness, and while serious illness is rare, in some cases it can lead to pneumonia or death.

“Adenovirus infection is easily spread, which is why we tend to see it in places where large groups gather, like college dormitories and classrooms,” said State Health Officer Jeanne Ayers. “While symptoms vary, the virus can be especially hard on people with weakened immune systems or who have lung or heart problems.”

There are a number of ways someone can get adenovirus, including:

  • Breathing in adenovirus from the air after someone with the infection has sneezed or coughed.
  • Touching or shaking hands with someone with the virus, then touching your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Touching surfaces like a doorknob, countertop, or phone with the virus on it, then touching your hands to mouth, nose, or eyes.
  • Having contact with poop.
  • Having contact with water that has the virus in it, such as in a swimming pool.

Symptoms of adenovirus infection depend on which type of the virus you have and the part of the body it is affecting.

  • Respiratory illness. These can range from cold and flu-like symptoms to bronchitis and pneumonia.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Pink eye.
  • In rare cases, inflammation of the bladder or severe neurological disease.

Antibiotics do not work on the virus. People with symptoms should see a doctor, stay home from work and school, and practice good health hygiene to avoid spreading adenovirus to others. People who have had the virus but no longer have symptoms could still spread it, so it’s important to be vigilant about washing hands and covering coughs and sneezes.

DHS is working with local health departments, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)(link is external), and college and university health services directors to provide prevention information and track the outbreaks. Information about these outbreaks can be found on the DHS Outbreaks and Investigations webpage.