The general aim was to investigate the burden of respiratory virus illness in a hospital emergency department, during two different epidemic seasons. Consecutive patients attending an emergency department during two study periods (February/March 2009 and 2010) were enrolled using broad inclusion criteria (fever/preceding fever and one of a set of ICD-9 codes suggestive of respiratory illness); nasopharyngeal washes were tested for the most common respiratory viruses using PCR-based methods. Influenza A virus was detected in 24% of samples collected in February/March 2009, whereas no samples tested positive for influenza during February/March 2010 (pandemic H1N1 Influenza A having circulated earlier in October–December 2009). Rhinovirus (HRV) was detected in 16% and 8% of patients recruited over the two study periods, respectively. Other respiratory viruses were detected rarely. Patient data were then analyzed with specific PCR results, comparing the HRV-positive group with virus-positive and no virus-detected groups. Individuals over 65 years old with HRV presented with signs, symptoms and underlying conditions and were admitted to hospital as often as the other enrolled patients, mainly for dyspnoea and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease acute exacerbation. Conversely, younger individuals with HRV, although presenting with respiratory signs and symptoms, were generally diagnosed with non-respiratory conditions. HRV was detected frequently in elderly patients attending the emergency department for respiratory distress without distinguishing clinical features. Molecular diagnosis of lower respiratory tract infections and surveillance of infectious diseases should include tests for HRV, as this virus is associated frequently with hospitalization of the elderly. J. Med. Virol. 83:2043–2047, 2011. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.