To better understand the systemic response to naturally acquired acute respiratory viral infections, we prospectively enrolled 1610 healthy adults in 2009 and 2010. Of these, 142 subjects were followed for detailed evaluation of acute viral respiratory illness. We examined peripheral blood gene expression at 7 timepoints: enrollment, 5 illness visits and the end of each year of the study. 133 completed all study visits and yielded technically adequate peripheral blood microarray gene expression data. Seventy-three (55%) had an influenza virus infection, 64 influenza A and 9 influenza B. The remaining subjects had a rhinovirus infection (N = 32), other viral infections (N = 4), or no viral agent identified (N = 24). The results, which were replicated between two seasons, showed a dramatic upregulation of interferon pathway and innate immunity genes. This persisted for 2-4 days. The data show a recovery phase at days 4 and 6 with differentially expressed transcripts implicated in cell proliferation and repair. By day 21 the gene expression pattern was indistinguishable from baseline (enrollment). Influenza virus infection induced a higher magnitude and longer duration of the shared expression signature of illness compared to the other viral infections. Using lineage and activation state-specific transcripts to produce cell composition scores, patterns of B and T lymphocyte depressions accompanied by a major activation of NK cells were detected in the acute phase of illness. The data also demonstrate multiple dynamic gene modules that are reorganized and strengthened following infection. Finally, we examined pre- and post-infection anti-influenza antibody titers defining novel gene expression correlates.