Acute respiratory tract infection is a leading cause of hospital admission of children. This study used a broad capture, rapid and sensitive method (multiplex PCR assay) to detect 20 different respiratory pathogens including influenza A subtypes H1, H3, and H5; influenza B; parainfluenza types 1, 2, 3, and 4; respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) groups A and B; adenoviruses; human rhinoviruses; enteroviruses; human metapneumoviruses; human coronaviruses OC43, 229E, and SARS-CoV; Chlamydophila pneumoniae; Legionella pneumophila; and Mycoplasma pneumoniae; from respiratory specimens of 475 children hospitalized over a 12-month period for acute respiratory tract infections. The overall positive rate (47%) was about twice higher than previous reports based on conventional methods. Influenza A, parainfluenza and RSV accounted for 51%, and non-cultivable viruses accounted for 30% of positive cases. Influenza A peaked at March and June. Influenza B was detected in January, February, and April. Parainfluenza was prevalent throughout the year except from April to June. Most RSV infections were found between February and September. Adenovirus had multiple peaks, whereas rhinovirus and coronavirus OC43 were detected mainly in winter and early spring. RSV infection was associated with bronchiolitis, and parainfluenza was associated with croup; otherwise the clinical manifestations were largely nonspecific. In general, children infected with influenza A, adenovirus and mixed viruses had higher temperatures. In view of the increasing concern about unexpected outbreaks of severe viral infections, a rapid multiplex PCR assay is a valuable tool to enhance the management of hospitalized patients, and for the surveillance for viral infections circulating in the community.