Virulent form of cold virus worries experts

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

An enlarged view of an adenovirus particle. The viral capsid is an icosahedron with 12 antenna-like fiber projections that function to attach the virus to the cell surface during infection. 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, health officials said on Thursday. REUTERS/Handout

A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report detailed cases of people ill in May of 2006 and from March to June of 2007 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.

“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 said in a telephone interview.

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

One of those who died was a 19-year-old female recruit at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas where other cases were found.

“Adenoviruses are notorious for causing illnesses, particularly in military recruits,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

A CDC spokesman said there was no evidence the virus was currently causing disease anywhere in the United States.

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.


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. Seven other people died in Oregon, including an infant. And a patient with AIDS died in Washington state.

Su said it was possible people outside the four states were sickened by the new strain of the virus.

“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