DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Killer Cold Virus Facts

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

A rare strain of a cold virus, known as adenovirus type 14 (Ad14), has caused severe and even fatal respiratory illness in healthy children and adults. Infection with the virus seems to be becoming more common in the United States, according to officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This virus is different from other adenoviruses that cause the common cold in that it may produce an unusually severe illness requiring intensive medical care. Although the Ad14 strain was identified in the 1950s, the variant that was isolated in 2006 and 2007 is genetically different from the original Ad14, suggesting that the viral genetic material has undergone mutations (changes) that have resulted in the increased severity of infections with Ad14.

As of November 2007, four known outbreaks of Ad14 had been reported in the U.S., beginning with the infection and death of a healthy infant in New York City in May 2006. Subsequent outbreaks occurred in 2007 in Oregon, Texas, and Washington state, resulting in a total of 10 deaths due to pneumonia. Overall, 141 confirmed cases of the infection occurred in these four outbreaks. The deaths occurred in previously healthy adults and children as well as in people with chronic conditions.

There are 51 known strains of adenovirus, a common and highly contagious virus type that does not always cause symptoms in healthy people. In other cases, adenoviruses may be responsible for conditions ranging from the common cold to conjunctivitis (pink eye), gastrointestinal infections, urinary tract infections, or skin rash. It has also been associated with infections of the heart and brain. Symptoms, if present, appear anywhere from two days to two weeks after exposure to the virus.