Adenovirus 14 Infection (Killer Cold Virus)

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP

    John P. Cunha, DO, is a U.S. board-certified Emergency Medicine Physician. Dr. Cunha's educational background includes a BS in Biology from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, and a DO from the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in Kansas City, MO. He completed residency training in Emergency Medicine at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center in Newark, New Jersey.

What is the killer cold virus?

The term "killer cold virus" was applied to a new strain of Adenovirus (Adenoviridae) termed adenovirus 14, adenovirus type 14, or Ad14 that appeared in multiple outbreaks worldwide since the 1950s and that has caused severe pneumonia and deaths in several different groups of individuals. This term was used because, in most people, typical adenoviruses cause symptoms of the common cold, not severe pneumonia or death. Investigations done by state and city health authorities, the U.S. Air Force, and CDC during several outbreaks showed that Ad14 is a rarely reported but emerging serotype of adenovirus that can cause severe and sometimes fatal respiratory disease in anyone, including healthy adults. Fortunately, Ad 14 infections are uncommon and most infections from Ad14 strains are not serious; the severe or fatal outcomes from Ad14 are relatively rare. However, the appellation of "killer cold virus" has stuck with the Ad14 strain of Adenovirus infection. This virus was first identified in the 1950s when Adenoviruses were first isolated from human adenoids (Adenovirus is named after adenoids). The number 14 of Ad14 represents the antigenic makeup of the strain or type; currently, there are at least 52 strains (antigenically distinct) that are distinguished by immunologic techniques. These viruses have a double-stranded DNA that is easily modified in lab experiments and apparently can undergo changes in the environment that may change Ad14's ability to infect cells and cause disease. The Ad14 strain is infrequently reported or encountered, while Ad4 and Ad7 strains are the most widespread Adenovirus strains (account for about 80% of adenoviral infections).

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/10/2017

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