Today's news has been heavy with the internet publication of information on yet another emerging human pathogen, a variant of Ad14.
Ad14 is an adenovirus, of which there are somewhere between 40 and 50 human serotypes, depending on which resource one reads. There are also adenoviruses that infect other mammals, birds, and even amphibians.
From today's CDC MMWR:
Acute Respiratory Disease Associated with Adenovirus Serotype 14 --- Four States, 2006--2007
Adenovirus serotype 14 (Ad14) is a rarely reported but emerging serotype of adenovirus that can cause severe and sometimes fatal respiratory illness in patients of all ages, including healthy young adults. In May 2006, an infant in New York aged 12 days died from respiratory illness caused by Ad14. During March--June 2007, a total of 140 additional cases of confirmed Ad14 respiratory illness were identified in clusters of patients in Oregon, Washington, and Texas. Fifty-three (38%) of these patients were hospitalized, including 24 (17%) who were admitted to intensive care units (ICUs); nine (5%) patients died. Ad14 isolates from all four states were identical by sequence data from the full hexon and fiber genes. However, the isolates were distinct from the Ad14 reference strain from 1955, suggesting the emergence and spread of a new Ad14 variant in the United States. No epidemiologic evidence of direct transmission linking the New York case or any of the clusters was identified. This report summarizes the investigation of these Ad14 cases by state and city health authorities, the U.S. Air Force, and CDC. State and local public health departments should be alert to the possibility of outbreaks caused by Ad14.
As with most infectious diseases, it is difficult to know the true extent and severity of a pathogen based solely on the cases that result in medical consultations and/or hospitalizations. There is no way of knowing how many cases occurred, and probably continue to occur, that were not severe enough to require medical treatment. Were we to have access to that data the alarming statistics in all likelihood wouldn't be so alarming, but without the full data set we are left with what we the data we do have. And that data is rather alarming.
This from MSNBC:
Scores sickened as mutated virus becoming more common, CDC says
The Associated Press
updated 1:55 p.m. ET, Thurs., Nov. 15, 2007
ATLANTA - A mutated version of a common cold virus has caused 10 deaths in the last 18 months, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
Adenoviruses usually cause respiratory infections that aren't considered lethal. But a new variant has caused at least 140 illnesses in New York, Oregon, Washington and Texas, according to a report issued Thursday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That is incorrect based on the MMRW report:
Cases reported postinvestigation. Since the investigation, new cases of febrile respiratory illness have continued to occur at LAFB, but the weekly incidence has declined from a peak of 74 cases with onset during the week of May 27--June 2, to 55 cases with onset during the week of September 23--29 (the most recent period for which data were available). In addition, during March--September 2007, three other military bases in Texas that received trainees from LAFB reported a total of 220 cases of Ad14 illness (Air Force Institute for Operational Health, personal communication, 2007). However, whether Ad14 spread from LAFB to these three bases has not been determined. Ad14 also was detected in April in an eye culture from an outpatient in the surrounding community who had respiratory symptoms and conjunctivitis. No link between this case and the LAFB cases was identified.
The Associated Press article from MSNBC closes with this paragraph:
It's not clear how the changes made it more lethal, said Linda Gooding, an Emory University researcher who specializes in adenoviruses.
Earlier this year, hundreds of trainees at Lackland became ill with respiratory infections. Tests showed a variety of adenoviruses in the trainees, but at least 106 — and probably more — had the mutated form of Ad14, including five who ended up in an intensive care unit.
So while the reporting is alarming, the story that they attempt to report on is not clearly delineated, nor can it be; we just don't possess all of the facts on all of the (likely) cases.
We do, however, know that adenovirus is long-lived outside a host. Door handles/knobs, counter surfaces, toilet and bathroom sink handles, shopping cart handles, and the myriad other surfaces we touch on a regular basis throughout our normal day. Washing our hands regularly and keeping our hands away from our face will go a long way in helping to guard against infection. In today's "viral jungle" we must learn to adapt our behaviors as rapidly and efficiently as the pathogens we face.