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J Am Geriatr Soc. 1999 Sep;47(9):1087-93.

Non-influenza respiratory viruses may overlap and obscure influenza activity.

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  • 1Wisconsin Veterans Home, King, Wisconsin 64946-0620, USA.

Erratum in

  • J Am Geriatr Soc 1999 Nov;47(11):1363.



To report the number and timing of influenza A isolates, as well as overlapping respiratory viruses. Co-circulating respiratory viruses may obscure the determination of influenza activity.


Prospective clinical surveillance for the new onset of respiratory illness followed by viral cultures during seven separate influenza seasons.


The Wisconsin Veterans Home, a skilled nursing facility for veterans and their spouses.


Influenza A isolates were encountered in greater numbers than non-influenza A isolates during three seasons. Seasonal variability is striking. In December 1992, we identified a large outbreak of respiratory illness. Influenza type B was cultured from 102 residents. In December 1995, influenza A was cultured from 285 people in Wisconsin. At that time, we identified outbreaks of respiratory illness in two of our four buildings. Based on statewide data, we suspected an influenza outbreak; however, 26 isolates of parainfluenza virus type 1 were cultured with no influenza. The potential importance of culturing at the end of the season was demonstrated in 1991-1992 when an outbreak of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) overlapped and extended beyond influenza A activity.


When interpreting new clinical respiratory illnesses as a basis for declaring an outbreak of influenza A, clinicians should realize that co-circulating respiratory viruses can account for clinical illnesses. Clinicians might utilize healthcare dollars efficiently by performing cultures to focus the timing of influenza A chemoprophylaxis. Cultures could be performed when clinical outbreak criteria are approached to confirm an outbreak. Culturing of new respiratory illness could begin again before the anticipated discontinuation of prophylaxis (approximately 2 weeks).

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