Purpose: We compared the prevalence and spectrum of common respiratory viruses among patients with near-fatal asthma, acute exacerbations of asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the relation of these findings to acute respiratory symptoms.
Methods: We obtained adequate samples of respiratory secretions from 17 patients hospitalized with near-fatal asthma, 29 with acute asthma, and 14 with COPD. We used a polymerase chain reaction-based method to test for six common respiratory viruses in samples from endotracheal tube aspirates from patients with near-fatal asthma, and from induced sputum specimens from patients with acute asthma or COPD. Respiratory symptoms (runny nose, sore throat, fever, chills, malaise, and cough) were recorded. Quiescent-phase induced sputum specimens were examined from patients who were initially virus positive.
Results: Viral nucleic acids were detected in 52% (31/60) of acute-phase specimens and 7% (2/29) of quiescent-phase specimens examined (P <0.001), with similar proportions of virus-positive patients during the acute phase in the three groups: 59% (10/17) of those with near-fatal asthma, 41% (12/29) with acute asthma, and 64% (9/14) with COPD. Picornavirus (47% [n = 8]) and adenovirus (24% [n = 4]) were most commonly identified in near-fatal asthma, whereas influenza virus (36% [n = 5]) predominated in COPD. Virus-positive patients had a significantly increased frequency of runny nose, sore throat, fever, chills, and malaise (odds ratio = 4.1 to 18; P = 0.02 to 0.001).
Conclusion: Respiratory viruses are associated with hospitalizations for near-fatal asthma, acute asthma, and COPD, with some differences in the spectrum of viruses involved in the different groups of patients. Respiratory viruses are a target for the prevention and perhaps the treatment of these conditions.