The viral factor responsible for triggering the acute phase response, or 'flu' syndrome, associated with many acute viral infections is not defined. One candidate viral factor is double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) generated during viral replication. In this report we demonstrate by reverse-transcriptase polymerase-chain reaction that nuclease-stable viral RNA was released from influenza-infected MDCK epithelial cells at the time of cell lysis. Removal of virion-associated RNA by ultracentrifugation left equal amounts of positive- and negative-strand viral RNA in the medium that resisted degradation by endogenous RNase in the medium and by exogenous RNase added prior to phenol extraction. These data are the first demonstration that viral RNA with characteristics of dsRNA is spontaneously released from dying influenza virus-infected cells, and thus is available to amplify cytokine induction and contribute to systemic disease.