There are more than fifty separate varieties of Adenovirus that cause human illness. We usually think of this virus as "the common cold", take a few over the counter remedies that attack the symptoms, and have a cup of tea. But the CDC reported yesterday that there now exists a strain of adenovirus that has a little more pep than past strains. This strain has infected at least 140 people in New York, Texas, Oregon, and Washington. Over the past 18 months, at least ten of the infected individuals have died. In those cases, the severe cold progressed to pneumonia.
"Ad14" is the name that has been selected for this tiny microbe. It is actually not a brand new disease; an earlier form of it was discovered in 1955. But the ability of the virus to kill is new, and disturbing insofar as there are no antibiotics that will attack a virus. The only thing we can do to fight this is to practice sanitary precautions such as hand washing- there is no cure. Public health officials are not yet sure what has changed about the microbe to make it more virulent.
In a big picture sense, this is nothing new. Microbes constantly respond to natural selection in fine tuning their abilities to infect hosts. There are quite a few human hosts out there now, 6.5 billion. It is disturbing, coming right after the recent news of increasing numbers of MRSA (Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus) cases, as well as the news that our old nemesis Gonorhea is becoming resistant to some of the antibiotics at our disposal. We opened up a lead this past century when we discovered and exploited antibiotics, but time passes and the microbes play catch up. Neither of those organisms are viruses of course- remember that antibiotics attack bacteria but leave viruses alone.
Stay tuned, you will be hearing more about Ad14. If you catch a cold and it worsens, see a doctor.