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Could You Die From A Cold Virus?

I was troubled by an article that I read in the Washington Post today. Apparently a common cold virus (adenovirus) has mutated unexpectedly into a killer strain (with a death rate as high as 23% for those infected in Oregon). The CDC has been carefully tracking this virus over the past year, and has noted outbreaks in Oregon, Washington State, Texas, and New York. Genetic studies of this virus suggest that it is similar to adenovirus 14, first described in Holland in 1955, but has very recently mutated into a more virulent form.

The interesting (and frightening) thing about this virus is that it’s so strong that it can kill young, otherwise healthy people, rather than the usual “at risk” populations of the very young and the very old. There’s no way to know if this virus will spark an epidemic, or whether it will die down and disappear for now.

Those who have had the virus, and lived to tell about it, say that it came on like a usual cold but then instead of getting better at the usual 4-7 day point, their symptoms got worse, and high fevers, cough, and difficulty breathing ensued. Some folks have even required mechanical ventilation in the ICU setting to help them breathe.

This virus reminds me that we are very vulnerable to unexpected attacks from infectious diseases. All the while we docs had our eyes on bird flu and SARS, this little cold virus mutated into a killer. If you have a high fever with difficulty breathing, please see your doctor right away. Let’s hope this epidemic threat dissipates before it can gain a real foothold.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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