Human adenovirus type 4 (HAdV-E4), which is intriguingly limited to military populations, causes acute respiratory disease with demonstrated morbidity and mortality implications. This respiratory pathogen contains genome identity with chimpanzee adenoviruses, indicating zoonotic origins. A signature of these "old" HAdV-E4 is the absence of a critical replication motif, NF-I, which is found in all HAdV respiratory pathogens and most HAdVs. However, our recent survey of flu-like disease in children in Hong Kong reveals that the emergent HAdV-E4 pathogens circulating in civilian populations contain NF-I, indicating recombination and reflecting host-adaptation that enables the "new" HAdV-E4 to replicate more efficiently in human cells and foretells more potential HAdV-E4 outbreaks in immune-naïve civilian populations. Special attention should be paid by clinicians to this emergent and recombinant HAdV-E4 circulating in civilian populations.
Keywords: civilian populations; evolution; genome recombination; host adaptation; human adenovirus type 4; respiratory pathogens; zoonosis.