Is rhinovirus an important respiratory pathogen in adults?

Published Online: August 6, 2015

Rhinovirus is linked to asthma exacerbation and onset in infants and children, with rates of rhinovirus-associated hospitalization for acute respiratory illnesses (ARI) in young children of about 5 per 1000 per year in the United States. Rhinovirus is also associated with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbation in adults. However, severity and rates of rhinovirus-associated ARI in adults are not known.

In an original article recently published in The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI), Miller and colleagues hypothesized that human rhinovirus is an important pathogen associated with medical visits in the inpatient and outpatient setting in adults. In a prospective, population-based cohort of over 2,300 Tennessee residents ≥18 years old who were enrolled in the emergency department (ED), outpatient clinics, or hospitalized for ARI from December 2008 through May 2010; they tested nasal/throat swabs for rhinovirus and other viruses by RT-PCR. The researchers calculated population-based rates of ED visits and hospitalizations and compared rhinovirus-positive and -negative patients.

The authors found that rhinovirus was detected in eleven percent of adults seeking medical care for ARI (46% of these were of the classic species rhinovirus-A, and 22% were of the more newly described species rhinovirus-C) There were 7 rhinovirus-associated ED visits and 3 hospitalizations per 1000 adults annually. Patients with rhinovirus, compared to virus-negative ARI, were more likely to present with wheezing, to be a current smoker or live with a smoker, have a history of chronic respiratory disease, and were less likely to be hospitalized versus seen in the outpatient setting.

This study found that rhinovirus is associated with a substantial number of ED visits and hospitalizations for ARI in adults, and that there may be modifiable factors that can reduce the likelihood of presenting with rhinovirus-associated ARI.

The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology (JACI) is an official scientific journal of the AAAAI, and is the most cited journal in the field of allergy and clinical immunology.

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