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Clin Infect Dis. 2010 Mar 1;50(5):747-51. doi: 10.1086/650486.

The diagnosis of viral respiratory disease in older adults.

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Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee, USA.


Viral respiratory disease in older adults has been increasingly recognized as a significant cause of hospitalizations and death. Unfortunately, the recognition and diagnosis of infection due to many viral respiratory pathogens in older adults can be elusive because of atypical clinical presentations and the insensitivity of current laboratory diagnostic tests in this population. For influenza diagnosis, rapid antigen tests followed by viral culture (if antigen test results are negative), can be useful in older adults as long as clinicians are mindful of test limitations. Although specific, rapid antigen tests are insensitive in this population. Erroneous negative results may lead to delays in timely administration of antiviral treatment and institution of appropriate isolation precautions. The increasing availability of new, rapid, and sensitive molecular diagnostics, such as polymerase chain reaction testing, should provide more accurate and timely diagnoses of viral respiratory infections in older adults in the near future.

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