We studied the role of viruses and atypical bacteria in children hospitalized with exacerbated asthma by a prospective study of children with acute asthma admitted to the Department of Pediatrics in Lille, and to 15 hospitals in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, from October 1, 1998-June 30, 1999. We included children aged 2-16 years with active asthma, defined as three or more recurrent episodes of reversible wheezing. The severity of asthma and of asthmatic exacerbations was recorded. Immunofluorescence assays (IFA) on nasopharyngeal secretions (NPS), serological tests, or both, were used for detection of influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, parainfluenza virus, and coronavirus. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) assays on NPS were used for rhinovirus and enterovirus. Serological tests for Chlamydia pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae were performed. A control group of asymptomatic asthmatic outpatients was examined for respiratory viruses (using IFA and PCR). Eighty-two symptomatic children (mean age, 7.9 years) were examined. Viruses were detected in 38% (enterovirus, 15.8%; rhinovirus, 12%; RSV, 7.3%). Serological tests for atypical bacteria were positive in 10% of patients (C. pneumoniae, 5%; M. pneumoniae, 5%). Among the 27 control subjects (mean age, 7.9 years), one PCR was positive for enterovirus. There was no correlation between severity of chronic asthma or asthmatic exacerbations and the diagnosis of infection. Atypical bacterial pathogen infections were linked with prolonged asthmatic symptoms. In conclusion, we confirmed the high incidence of viral infection in acute exacerbations of asthma, especially enteroviruses or rhinoviruses. Persistent clinical features were more frequently associated with atypical bacterial infections, suggesting that these infections should be investigated and treated in cases of persistent asthmatic symptoms.
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