Adult bacterial nasopharyngitis: a clinical entity?

J Gen Intern Med. 1993 Dec;8(12):667-73. doi: 10.1007/BF02598283.


Objective: To investigate bacterial nasopharyngitis as a cause of adult upper respiratory infection.

Design: Prospective case series.

Setting: Walk-in medical clinic of a university hospital.

Patients: 507 patients with cold or flu symptoms, sore throat, or recent cough; 21 control subjects without symptoms of upper respiratory infection.

Measurements and main results: After thorough history and physical examination, the patients underwent nasopharyngeal aspiration and throat culture. Nasopharyngeal specimens were cultured for both bacteria and viruses; antigens for influenza, parainfluenza, and respiratory syncytial virus were sought by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA); serum antibodies to viral respiratory pathogens were determined. Group A beta-hemolytic streptococci grew from the throat specimens of 39 of the 507 patients (8%) or 38 of 334 patients (11%) who had clinical diagnoses of pharyngitis. Thirty-three cases of influenza A, 20 cases of influenza B, and seven cases of parainfluenza infections were diagnosed. Bacteria were cultured from the nasopharyngeal secretions of 284 patients (56%). In contrast to pharyngeal culture, commensal mixed flora were rarely found in nasopharyngeal culture. Nasopharyngeal culture of bacteria usually considered to be respiratory pathogens was significantly associated with the presence of leukocytes. Streptococcus pneumoniae (odds ratio 6.0, 95% confidence interval 2.6-14.2), Moraxella catarrhalis (odds ratio 12.9, 95% confidence interval 3.1-79.5), and Hemophilus influenzae (odds ratio 3.0, 95% confidence interval 1.2-7.4) were all associated with the presence of leukocytes. In contrast, nasopharyngeal culture of coagulase-negative staphylococci, mixed flora, and the documentation of a viral infection were not associated with the presence of leukocytes. For none of 21 control subjects were "pathogenic" bacteria found.

Conclusions: These data suggest that potentially pathogenic bacteria may have a causal role in adult nasopharyngitis, although further data are needed to confirm this hypothesis.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Bacterial Infections / complications*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Humans
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Middle Aged
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Nasopharyngitis / complications*
  • Nasopharyngitis / microbiology
  • Nasopharynx / cytology
  • Nasopharynx / microbiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Prospective Studies
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / microbiology*