November 15, 2007 / 8:41 PM / 10 years ago

Virulent form of cold virus spreads in U.S.

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A new and virulent strain of adenovirus, which frequently causes the common cold, has spread in parts of the United States, killing 10 people and putting dozens into hospitals, U.S. health officials said on Thursday.

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report detailed cases of people ill since May 2006 with a strain of the virus called adenovirus 14 in New York, Oregon, Washington state and Texas.

“Whether you’re a healthy young adult, an infant or an elderly person, this virus can cause severe respiratory disease at any age,” said John Su, who investigates infectious diseases for the CDC and contributed to the report.

Two of the 10 people who have died from the new strain were infants, Su said. The CDC report said about 140 people have been sickened by the virus and more than 50 hospitalized, including 24 admitted to intensive care units.

Adenoviruses frequently cause acute upper respiratory tract infections like the common cold, but also can cause other illnesses including inflammation of the stomach and intestines, pink eye, bladder infection and rashes.

Colds caused by adenoviruses can be very severe in the very young and the very old as well as in certain other people, like those with compromised immune systems.

“For most everybody else, it causes a mild illnesses, you get over it, life goes on,” Su said in a telephone interview.

“What makes this particular adenovirus a little different is that it has the capability of making healthy young adults severely ill. And that’s unusual for an adenovirus, and that’s why it’s got our attention,” Su added.

It is possible people outside these four states have been sickened by the new strain of the virus, Su said.

DIMENSION OF THE PROBLEM

Dr. William Schaffner, a spokesman for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, said an important next step is for public health officials to determine the dimension of the problem.

“I think this is a big alert to those of us in infectious diseases and public health to gather the appropriate specimens and see how widely distributed this virus is,” said Schaffner, chairman of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee.

The first case described in the report was that of an infant girl in New York City who died in May 2006.

The report also described illnesses from the virus at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

A 19-year-old female recruit at the base died from the virus. Seven other people died in Oregon, including an infant. And a patient with AIDS died in Washington state.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said adenoviruses are notorious for spreading illness particularly among military recruits placed in close quarters.

“The cases described in this report are unusual because they suggest the emergence of a new and virulent Ad14 (adenovirus 14) variant that has spread within the United States,” according to the CDC report.

There are 51 types of adenoviruses, the CDC report said.

Additional reporting by Maggie Fox, Editing by Philip Barbara

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