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Lancet. 2001 Oct 27;358(9291):1410-6.

Contribution of influenza and respiratory syncytial virus to community cases of influenza-like illness: an observational study.

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Virus Reference Division, PHLS Central Public Health Laboratory, 61 Colindale Avenue, NW9 5HT, London, UK.



Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is an important cause of lower-respiratory-tract infection in children and elderly people, but its effect in other age-groups is uncertain. We did a community-based observational study of RSV infection in community-dwelling individuals of all ages who presented to general practices in the UK with influenza-like illnesses during three successive winters (1995-96, 1996-97, and 1997-98).


Nasopharyngeal swabs routinely submitted for virological surveillance were examined by multiplex reverse transcription PCR for influenza A and B viruses and RSV A and B, and findings were related to the clinical incidence of influenza-like illness and acute bronchitis at that time. RSV strains identified were compared with those obtained from hospital admissions.


480 RSV and 709 influenza viruses were identified from a total of 2226 swabs submitted. Both types of virus were found in all age-groups for between 12 and 20 weeks in each winter. RSV A accounted for 60% of RSV detections. Similar strains of RSV were present in hospital and community patients within the same year, but there were different lineages each year.


In individuals diagnosed with influenza-like illness, there is a substantial potential for confusion between illnesses caused by influenza and those caused by RSV. The burden of illness attributable to each needs to be clarified to define optimum management routines.

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