A Maryland College Student Died From a Dangerous Strain of Adenovirus. Here's What to Know

A student at the University of Maryland has died from an illness associated with adenovirus—a common virus that’s also been linked to 11 deaths in New Jersey over the last two months. According to WJLA news, the college student was identified as 18-year-old Olivia Paregol.

Paregol’s death was announced Tuesday in a statement from David McBride, MD, director of the University of Maryland health center, although she was not mentioned by name. “While we are normally prohibited from sharing medical information publicly,” Dr. McBride wrote, “we have been authorized by a family member to share this news and urge others to take seriously this strain of a common virus.”

The statement to the campus community also noted that six cases of adenovirus had been diagnosed at the university since November 1.

With these tragedies making headlines, you may be wondering what adenovirus is and how such a common virus can turn deadly. Here’s what you should know–and how to protect yourself and your loved ones.

What is adenovirus?

Adenoviruses are a group of common viruses that can cause a range of symptoms and illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For example, they can be responsible for the common cold, stomach flu, sore throat, bronchitis, diarrhea, pink eye, fever, and bladder inflammation or infection.

These viruses are usually associated with mild illnesses, and most people who become sick get better on their own. But certain strains can cause more serious symptoms, like respiratory distress, pneumonia, or neurologic damage.

The most common way that adenoviruses spread is through close personal contact—like touching, coughing, sneezing, or shaking hands—or by touching a contaminated surface and then touching one’s mouth, nose, or eyes. Less commonly, adenoviruses can also spread through infected stool (during diaper changing, for example) or through water (like in swimming pools).

When is adenovirus dangerous?

The recent outbreak in a New Jersey nursing and rehabilitation facility that killed 11 children has been attributed to a specific strain, called adenovirus 7, that is “associated with communal living arrangements and is known to cause severe illness—especially in those with compromised immune systems,” according to the New Jersey Department of Health. (The facility treats children with serious medical issues.)

In his statement to the University of Maryland community, Dr. McBride noted that at least one case of adenovirus 7 had also been confirmed on campus.

Paregol may have also had a compromised immune system: Her father told WJLA that she had been battling Crohn’s disease—a type of chronic, inflammatory bowel disease—and had been living in a dorm known for mold problems. (An FAQ page on the university health center’s website notes that there is “no consistent connection between mold exposure and the incidents of adenovirus infection affecting UMD students.”)

How is adenovirus treated?

Unfortunately, there is no specific treatment for adenovirus. Doctors usually recommend rest, plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms like pain and fever.

A vaccine does exist for adenoviruses types 4 and 7, but it is only available to military personnel who may be at higher risk of these dangerous strains, and not to the general public.

People can protect themselves and their loved ones from adenovirus by washing hands often with soap and water; avoiding touching their eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands; and avoiding close contact with people who are sick, recommends the CDC.

If people do get sick, the CDC advises them to stay home, cover their mouths when coughing or sneezing, and avoid kissing or sharing cups or utensils with others.

In his statement, Dr. McBride noted that “vigilance is extremely important for those with chronic medical problems like asthma, diabetes, or illnesses that lower your immune system or if you take medicine that lowers your immune system.” He encouraged vulnerable members of the University of Maryland community not to ignore signs of a new illness and to visit a doctor within 48 hours of developing symptoms.

Dr. McBride also said that the university is working with the state and county health departments to increase awareness of and testing for the virus, and that departments across campus have increased cleaning of “high-touch surfaces.” He referred to the university health center’s website for more information and regular updates.

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