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What is Adenovirus and why is it turning deadly in India?

A new strain of Adenovirus has led to thousands of hospitalisations in India, with at least 40 children dying from the viral disease in the West Bengal state alone. 

The death rate is slowly rising and Karnataka state is also witnessing a surge in infection cases as of March 10. 

Although the states affected by the virus are yet to close schools, doctors urge parents to keep their children indoors until the virus’s peak time declines.

Children with low immunity during seasonal flus or those who usually suffer from respiratory infections throughout the year are most vulnerable to this new Adenovirus strain, Dr Sayan Chakraborty, a chest disease doctor at the Advanced Medical Research Institute in West Bengal’s capital city Kolkata, tells TRT World.

“Kids showing symptoms of cough or runny nose must stay indoors or quarantine.” Chakraborty added that healthy children should take precautions, such as wearing face masks and applying hand sanitisers. 

Most children have been infected with Adenovirus once between ages 0 to 10, and 90 percent of them recover fully. But new strains seem to take a heavy toll on health. 

Hospitals in West Bengal are running out of capacity of pediatric intensive care units, according to The Times of India.

As per Newsclick, a father who lost his child blamed the lack of ventilators for the death of his child.

“If there was an adequate ICU, my child might have survived,” the father told Newsclick.

Adenoviruses are DNA viruses that typically cause mild infections involving the upper or lower respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, or eyes. 

Reuters in May 2022 reported that Adenovirus of various serotypes have been found in at least 34 countries, causing liver inflammation or hepatitis to at least 600 children. Health experts described some cases of liver infections as “acute hepatitis”- an unusual phenomenon since such degree of liver inflammation from a viral load is uncommon among the children in the 2-10 age group.

In West Bengal, however, doctors are yet to find Adenovirus-induced hepatitis amongst children. 

According to Chakraborty, the state is affected by a different type of Adenovirus serotype.

Virologists have traced at least 50 different serotypes of Adenovirus. Chakraborty explains that serotypes are groups or subsets within a single species of microorganisms, such as bacteria or viruses, with distinctive surface structures.

In India, says Chakraborty, virologists have found a new strain of Adenovirus originating from the combination of serotype 3 and 7. 

“It’s similar to Covid-19 variants. Adenovirus has 60 different serotypes,” Chakraborty said. 

How does it spread?

Like Covid19, Adenovirus spreads from one person to another through close contact – such as touching or shaking hands. It’s also an airborne virus that can be passed on by coughing or sneezing or touching an infected surface. 

“It transfers through droplets, so the best thing to protect your kids is to make them wear masks and wash their hands regularly,” Chakraborty said.

US public health agency The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says Adenoviruses are often resistant to common disinfectants and that the infected surface can remain contagious for long periods of time.

READ MORE: Oxygen shortages worsen India’s Covid-19 crisis as cases near 20M

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