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Adenovirus is an infectious virus that has been identified in a variety of snakes, including the boa constrictor, corn snake, California king snake, and Mojave rattlesnakes, among others. While bacteria are a significant and common cause of disease in captive reptiles, fungi and viruses are also infectious agents that lead to serious illness or death in a variety of snakes.
In cases of viral infection, animals and reptiles may also develop signs of a secondary bacterial infection, presenting reptile owners with a double whammy of high-risk illness. In serious cases of viral disease such as adenovirus, reptiles may develop a secondary case of pneumonia that becomes the primary cause of death. In cases when secondary bacterial infections develop, the reptile owner may overlook the possibility of an underlying viral disease, thus leaving the virus untreated. Oftentimes, the virus is not diagnosed in the reptile until it does not respond to antibiotics (presumptive exclusion), or tissue is evaluated on post-mortem examination.
There appears to be no specific geographic association with the virus; it is found in animals and reptiles worldwide. Adenovirus also shows no seasonal or climate preference. The virus is also found in humans, mostly young adults and infants, and is the second most common cause of virus-induced enteritis (the inflammation of the small intestine). In humans, animals, and reptiles, the virus presents with signs of both discomfort and malaise. Most will have symptoms of fever, as well as gastrointestinal disturbances such as vomiting, abdominal pain, cramping, and diarrhea. Dehydration commonly occurs due to frequent bouts of vomiting and diarrhea. Other noticeable signs may include slow or stunted growth, poor appetite, and even sudden death. Snakes, unlike other reptiles, may develop dermatitis, a condition that causes the snake to shed its skin far too quickly. Sometimes, death will occur before symptoms have a chance to develop fully. Neurological signs such as tremor do not typically suggest adenovirus.
Adenovirus is a highly contagious, infectious virus most commonly associated with Bearded Dragons; however, adenovirus has also been identified in a variety of snakes, including Boids, Colubridae, and Viperidae (Mojave Rattlesnakes).
Due to weakened or underdeveloped immune systems, animals and reptiles most seriously impacted by adenovirus are the very young, particularly those between four to twelve weeks in age. However, in snakes, adult animals are just as often affected by the virus. In reptiles, transmission of the virus may occur directly, vertically or environmentally. In cases of direct transmission, the route is thought to be fecal-oral. Vertically, the virus is transmitted in one of three ways: from the infected female to her developing embryos, from an infected male to the eggs upon fertilization, or upon the eggs passing through the cloaca, which is the cavity that serves as a passageway for both excretory and reproductive purposes. When the virus is transmitted environmentally, it carries in respiratory droplets. There is still controversy about how the virus is transmitted, but no matter the path, adenovirus is a highly contagious disease.
Diagnosing an adenovirus infection is difficult due to the number of generalized symptoms that occur with other infections. The veterinarian will want to rule out other conditions such as parasites or bacterial infection. Fecal examinations and blood work will be conducted.
Diagnosis is most definitive when tests are conducted on tissue samples (the intestine or liver) post-mortem by a pathologist. Findings have included: gastroenteritis, stomatitis, oesophagitis, hepatitis, nephritis, pneumonia and encephalitis.
Treatment is not specific for adenovirus. Many animals and reptiles die before presenting clinical signs of infection. Antimicrobials can be given in case of secondary infections, as well as fluid therapy and nutritional support to support recovery.
While there is no specific treatment for adenovirus infection in snakes, antibiotics such as enrofloxacin or marbofloxacin are often used to control secondary infections. Supportive care in the form of subcutaneous or intracoelomic fluids is given to offset dehydration and restore health. Veterinarians may recommend quarantine, as well as the correct strength and type of virucidal disinfectant necessary to maintain hygienic living facilities.
Veterinarians typically recommend isolation for at least 90 days due to the highly contagious nature of the virus. One of the most critical strategies to reduce infection in pets is to always maintain a hygienic, safe environment. Veterinarians will recommend the optimal type of solutions and disinfectant to maintain sanitation in your animal’s living environment.
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