Adenovirus or ADV is a highly contagious disease that spreads among almost all reptile species. Adenovirus is also known as wasting disease and star-gazing disease due to its unique symptoms. This disease is one of the most serious diseases a reptile can get and is sometimes only discovered after death during a necropsy. Some reptiles will not ever show symptoms of the disease and will become lifelong carriers.
ADV mostly affects young reptiles and they don’t usually live longer than three months if not properly treated. During this short time, they will lose a lot of weight making it difficult to survive. Reptiles that get Adenovirus as an adult will often develop liver and kidney disease, encephalitis, gastroenteritis, stomatitis, and other conditions.
This disease infects Agamid lizards, Chameleons, Geckos, Helodermatid lizards, Monitors, Skinks, Snakes, and turtles. There is even a report of a Nile crocodile getting the virus.
Symptoms of Adenovirus
This disease is also called star-gazing and wasting disease due to its unique symptoms. It’s called star-gazing disease because lizards will often arch their neck back making them appear to look up at the sky. This is because the Adenovirus affects the reptile’s nervous system causing this star-gazing symptom.
Some reptiles with ADV can experience neurological symptoms such as body twitching and seizures. Other symptoms of Adenovirus are:
- Feeling lethargic
- Weight loss
- Poor appetite
- Weakened immune system
Treatment for Adenovirus
There are no specific treatments to completely cure Adenovirus, but ways to alleviate its symptoms are available. These treatments include:
The infected reptile should be kept alone with no exposure to other healthy reptiles, or they could also get infected with the disease. It would be best to not take the reptile out of their cage until they fully recover. For most reptiles they are already kept alone unless they are breeding. If you own multiple reptiles you should care for the healthy ones first, and the infected one last. By interacting with them last you minimize the chances of cross contaminating the other healthy ones. It’s also not a bad idea to wash up between handling different reptiles. Washing up should help prevent getting different reptiles sick even if you don’t know that they’re sick.
The infected reptile should be given proper housing care with enough UVB lighting and heat. The heat and UVB lighting will help reduce their stress and improve their immune system. If your reptile is dehydrated, warm water soaks could help them. Syringe feeding may be done if they don’t eat well.
Medication For Secondary Diseases
If your reptile get a secondary disease due to a weakened immune system, make sure your vet is aware of the situation. The secondary diseases a reptile with ADV get typically affect their liver, stomach, and kidneys.
A healthy reptile can get infected with Adenovirus from contact with an infected reptile. It’s important to separate healthy and infected reptiles. Carrier reptiles can be a problem because sometimes they don’t show any symptoms.
The only way to identify if a reptile is infected by Adenovirus or is a carrier is by having a PCR test done. Your reptile’s DNA will show if they have the virus. The DNA results will be the same for both carrier and infected reptiles, showing both as infected even if they don’t have symptoms.
If you have a reptile that unexpectedly dies, we recommend having a necropsy test so it can be tested for ADV. This test can help save other reptiles you have from dying.
EM (Electron Microscopy) testing can also be done to detect the virus. EM testing is done by looking at a DNA sample of your reptile through an electron microscope. While the test will need to be sent to a lab for testing, it will show a clear image of the DNA sample. A scientist specialized in Electron Microscopy will be able to identify the ADV, if present.
How Do Reptiles Become Infected With ADV?
Being Exposed to Bio-waste
Being exposed to the feces of an infected or carrier reptile can spread the disease. Their waste should be cleaned as soon as possible to not only prevent Adenovirus from spreading but also other diseases. Uncleaned waste is known to cause illnesses and spread disease.
Indirect contact with infected or carrier reptiles can pass ADV. This usually happens with a person that just handled an infected reptile and didn’t clean properly before handling another reptile. Anyone handling a reptile should wash with soap and water after handling a reptile to keep both the animal and handler safe.
Sharing the same cage with an infected or carrier reptile is an easy way to infect a healthy reptile. Fortunately most reptile species are usually kept in their own enclosure.
Eating the leftover food of an infected or carrier reptile or sharing food with one can also transmit the virus. Whenever possible leftover food should always be fed to the same lizard again later, or thrown away.
Don’t Breed Infected Reptiles.
Reptiles that are carriers or infected should never be bred. Breeding sick reptiles will only result in the offspring being infected and possibly the healthy mate too. All animals in contact with one that is suspected of having ADV should be kept away from each other, and never bred. It’s also a bad idea to sell reptiles that may be infected because the new owner may unknowingly start the cycle again.
Can Reptiles Survive Adenovirus?
Reptiles will mostly recover with proper care and treatments, but if the damage from the virus is too severe, they may not survive. Reptiles with neurological symptoms will continue to have some side effects after recovery, but will still be able to live a happy life.
Can Humans get Adenovirus from Reptiles?
Humans have no risks of getting infected by Adenovirus. Only reptile species except alligators and crocodiles can get infected by this virus.
What Causes Adenoviruses in Reptiles?
The exact cause of adenovirus is not known but its suspected that it comes from fecal/oral direct contact from contaminated or infected animals. The search to find the exact cause is still ongoing.