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Am J Med. 1997 Mar 17;102(3A):2-9; discussion 25-6.

Respiratory viral infections in immunocompetent and immunocompromised persons.

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  • 1Department of Microbiology and Immunology, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, Texas 77030, USA.


The acute respiratory illnesses are the most common type of acute illness in the United States today. The respiratory viruses--which include influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinoviruses, coronaviruses, and adenoviruses--cause the majority of these illnesses. Some of these viruses cause illness throughout the year, whereas others are most common in winter. All population groups experience these infections and illnesses. As the number of elderly persons and those with underlying disease increases, awareness is growing that these common infections can have serious consequences. This has recently been emphasized for immunocompromised persons. At the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center (MDACC), infection surveillance of mostly hospitalized adults with leukemia or a recent bone marrow transplant yielded a respiratory virus from 181 of 668 (27.1%) respiratory illness episodes. In descending order of frequency, infections with RSV, rhinoviruses, influenza viruses, parainfluenza viruses, and adenoviruses were detected in each of three surveillance years. High frequencies of nosocomial acquisition occurred, as has been noted in prior reports. Similarly, persistence of infection and high frequencies of pneumonia and death among infected patients occurred, which have also been noted earlier. At MDACC, pneumonia occurred in 58-78% of infected patients, and 22-44% died. The role of the virus infection in many cases of pneumonia is uncertain, but death from pure viral pneumonia is well documented. A number of immune deficiencies in this patient population and options for control of these infections have been described that can, respectively, account for the medical problem and provide ways to approach prevention and treatment.

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