Respiratory viral infections in the elderly

Antiviral Res. 1999 Dec 15;44(2):79-102. doi: 10.1016/s0166-3542(99)00062-5.


Viral respiratory infections represent a significant challenge for those interested in improving the health of the elderly. Influenza continues to result in a large burden of excess morbidity and mortality. Two effective measures, inactivated influenza vaccine, and the antiviral drugs rimantadine and amantadine, are currently available for control of this disease. Inactivated vaccine should be given yearly to all of those over the age of 65, as well as younger individuals with high-risk medical conditions and individuals delivering care to such persons. Live, intranasally administered attenuated influenza vaccines are also in development, and may be useful in combination with inactivated vaccine in the elderly. The antiviral drugs amantadine and rimantadine are effective in the treatment and prevention of influenza A, although rimantadine is associated with fewer side-effects. Recently, the inhaled neuraminidase inhibitor zanamivir, which is active against both influenza A and B viruses, was licensed for use in uncomplicated influenza. The role of this drug in treatment and prevention of influenza in the elderly remains to be determined. Additional neuraminidase inhibitors are also being developed. In addition, to influenza, respiratory infections with respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza virus, rhinovirus, and coronavirus have been identified as potential problems in the elderly. With increasing attention, it is probable that the impact of these infections in this age group will be more extensively documented. Understanding of the immunology and pathogenesis of these infections in elderly adults is in its infancy, and considerable additional work will need to be performed towards development of effective control measures.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Common Cold / mortality
  • Common Cold / prevention & control
  • Common Cold / virology
  • Coronavirus Infections / mortality
  • Coronavirus Infections / prevention & control
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / mortality
  • Influenza, Human / prevention & control
  • Influenza, Human / virology
  • Middle Aged
  • Paramyxoviridae Infections / mortality
  • Paramyxoviridae Infections / prevention & control
  • Paramyxoviridae Infections / virology
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / mortality
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / prevention & control
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus Infections / virology
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / mortality*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / prevention & control
  • Respiratory Tract Infections* / virology
  • Viral Vaccines


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Viral Vaccines