Viral respiratory tract infections are common and usually selflimited illnesses. For patients at risk of asthma, or with existing asthma, viral respiratory tract infections can have a profound effect on the expression of disease or loss of control. New evidence has shown that wheezing episodes early in life due to human rhinoviruses are a major risk factor for the later diagnosis of asthma at age 6 years. For those with existing asthma, exacerbations are a major cause of morbidity, can need acute care, and can, albeit rarely, result in death. Viral respiratory tract infections, predominantly those caused by human rhinoviruses, are associated with asthma exacerbations. There is also evidence that deficiencies in antiviral activity and the integrity of the airway epithelial barrier could make individuals with asthma more likely to have severe viral respiratory infections of the lower airway, and thus increase the risk of exacerbation. In view of the effect of respiratory viruses on many aspects of asthma, efforts to understand the mechanisms and risk factors by which these airway infections cause changes in airway pathophysiology are a first step towards improved treatment.
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