This paper describes the molecular detection of influenza A, influenza B, respiratory syncytial virus and human metapneumovirus using real-time nucleic acid sequence based amplification (NASBA) from respiratory samples collected on simple dry cotton swabs, non-invasively and in the absence of transport medium. Viral RNA was detectable on dry cotton and flocked swabs for at least 2 weeks at room temperature and was readily extracted using magnetic silica extraction methods. Dry cotton respiratory swabs were matched with traditionally collected respiratory samples from the same patient, and results of traditional laboratory techniques and real-time NASBA were compared for all four viral targets. The results not only showed a significant increase in the detection rate of the viral targets over traditional laboratory methods of 46%, but also that dry swabs did not compromise their recovery. Over two subsequent winter seasons, 736 dry cotton respiratory swabs were collected from symptomatic patients and tested using real-time NASBA giving an overall detection rate for these respiratory virus targets of 38%. The simplicity of the method together with the increased detection rate observed in the study proves that transporting a dry respiratory swab to the laboratory for respiratory virus diagnosis using molecular methods is a suitable and robust alternative to traditional sample types.