Background: Rhinovirus infections cause exacerbations of asthma. We postulated that people with asthma are more susceptible to rhinovirus infection than people without the disease and compared the susceptibility of these groups.
Methods: We recruited 76 cohabiting couples. One person in every couple had atopic asthma and one was healthy. Participants completed daily diary cards of upper-respiratory-tract (URT) and lower-respiratory-tract (LRT) symptoms and measured peak expiratory flow twice daily. Every 2 weeks nasal aspirates were taken and examined for rhinovirus. Mixed models were used to compare risks of infection between groups. We also compared the severity and duration of infections.
Findings: We analysed 753 samples. Rhinovirus was detected in 10.1% (38/378) of samples from participants with asthma and 8.5% (32/375) of samples from healthy participants. After adjustment for confounding factors, asthma did not significantly increase risk of infection (odds ratio 1.15, 95% CI 0.71-1.87). Groups did not differ in frequency, severity, or duration of URT infections or symptoms associated with rhinovirus infection. First rhinovirus infection was associated more frequently with LRT infection in participants with asthma than in healthy individuals (12 of 28 infections vs four of 23, respectively, p=0.051). Symptoms of LRT associated with rhinovirus infection were significantly more severe (p=0.001) and longer-lasting in participants with asthma than in healthy participants (p=0.005).
Interpretation: People with atopic asthma are not at greater risk of rhinovirus infection than healthy individuals but suffer from more frequent LRT infections and have more severe and longer-lasting LRT symptoms.