Background: Human rhinoviruses (HRVs) are a common cause of upper respiratory tract infections. There is growing evidence that HRVs are also important in lower respiratory tract infections and often induce asthma exacerbations.
Objective: We evaluated the presence of HRV in the lower respiratory tract by obtaining bronchial biopsies from infants with recurrent asthmalike respiratory symptoms.
Methods: A total of 201 steroid-naive infants age 3 to 26 months with recurrent respiratory symptoms for at least 4 weeks within the preceding 2 months were studied for lung function using body plethysmography. Bronchoscopy was performed in 68 children, and bronchial biopsies were available from 59 infants for HRV detection with in situ hybridization.
Results: Human rhinovirus was detected in 21 of 47 (45%) specimens. Abnormal lung function (decreased airways conductance) was found in 18 of 21 (86%) HRV(+) infants and in 15 of 26 (58%) HRV(-) infants (P = .037). Occurrence of a respiratory infection in the 6 weeks preceding bronchoscopy correlated with HRV positivity (P = .036).
Conclusion: Human rhinovirus is frequently found in the lower airways in infants with recurrent respiratory symptoms, and the majority of these HRV(+) infants also showed increased airway resistance.
Clinical implications: Human rhinovirus is a common pathogen causing upper and lower respiratory symptoms. Follow-up of these infants will reveal whether the presence of HRV in the bronchial biopsy and abnormal lung function with recurrent respiratory symptoms predicts subsequent asthma.