A prospective, community-based study on virologic assessment among elderly people with and without symptoms of acute respiratory infection

J Clin Epidemiol. 2003 Dec;56(12):1218-23. doi: 10.1016/s0895-4356(03)00171-9.


Background/objectives: Community-based elderly studies concerning microbiology of acute respiratory infections are scarce. Data on subclinical infections are even totally absent, although asymptomatic persons might act as a source of respiratory infections.

Methods: In a 1-year community-based study, we prospectively investigated the possible virologic cause of acute respiratory infections in 107 symptomatic case episodes and 91 symptom-free control periods. Participants, persons >/=60 years, reported daily the presence of respiratory symptoms in a diary. Virologic assessment was performed by polymerase chain reaction (PCR) and serology.

Results: In 58% of the case episodes a pathogen was demonstrated, the most common being rhinoviruses (32%), coronaviruses (17%), and influenzaviruses (7%). The odds ratio for demonstrating a virus in cases with symptoms vs. controls without symptoms was 30.0 (95% confidence interval 10.2-87.6). In 4% of the symptom-free control periods a virus was detected.

Conclusions: This study supports the importance of rhinovirus infections in community-dwelling elderly persons, whereas asymptomatic elderly persons can also harbor pathogens as detected by PCR, and thus might be a source of infection for their environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Aged
  • Antibodies, Viral / blood
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Community Medicine
  • Coronavirus Infections / diagnosis
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Coronavirus Infections / transmission
  • Disease Reservoirs
  • Female
  • Genes, Viral
  • Housing
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / diagnosis
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Influenza, Human / transmission
  • Male
  • Odds Ratio
  • Picornaviridae Infections / diagnosis
  • Picornaviridae Infections / epidemiology
  • Picornaviridae Infections / transmission
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / virology*
  • Virus Diseases / diagnosis
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Virus Diseases / transmission


  • Antibodies, Viral