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Respiratory tract infections are a major cause of outpatient visits, yet only a portion is tested to determine the etiologic organism. Multiplex reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (MRT-PCR) assays for detection of multiple viruses are being used increasingly in clinical settings.
During January–April 2012, outpatients with acute respiratory illness (≤7 days) were tested for influenza using singleplex RT-PCR (SRT-PCR). A subset was assayed for 18 viruses using MRT-PCR to compare detection of influenza and examine the distribution of viruses and characteristics of patients using multinomial logistic regression.
Among 662 participants (6 months–82 years), detection of influenza was similar between the MRT-PCR and SRT-PCR (κ = 0·83). No virus was identified in 267 (40.3%) samples. Commonly detected viruses were human rhinovirus (HRV, 15·4%), coronavirus (CoV, 10·4%), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV, 8·4%), human metapneumovirus (hMPV, 8·3%), and influenza (6%). Co-detections were infrequent (6·9%) and most commonly occurred among those <18 years old. In regression analyses, compared with non-viral illnesses, RSV and hMPV were significantly more frequent in children and less frequent in 18- to 49-year-olds than in those ≥50 years (P = 0·01), fever was more common in hMPV and influenza infections (P = 0·008), nasal congestion was more frequent in CoV, HRV, hMPV, influenza and RSV infections (P = 0·001), and body mass index was higher among those with influenza (P = 0·036).
Using MRT-PCR, a viral etiology was found in three-fifths of patients with medically attended outpatient visits for acute respiratory illness during the influenza season; co-detected viruses were infrequent. Symptoms varied by viral etiology.