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Community study of role of viral infections in exacerbations of asthma in 9-11 year old children

BMJ 1995; 310 doi: (Published 13 May 1995) Cite this as: BMJ 1995;310:1225
  1. Sebastian L Johnston, lecturer in medicinea,
  2. Philip K Pattemore, senior lecturer in paediatricsa,
  3. Gwendolyn Sanderson, research assistanta,
  4. Sandra Smith, research nursea,
  5. Fiona Lampe, medical statisticianb,
  6. Lynn Josephs, research fellowa,
  7. Penny Symington, research fellowa,
  8. Susan O' Toole, research nursea,
  9. Steven H Myint, senior lecturerc,
  10. David A J Tyrrell, directord,
  11. Stephen T Holgate, professor of immunopharmacologya
  1. a University Medicine, Southampton General Hospital, Southampton SO9 4XY
  2. b Department of Medical Statistics and Computing, University of Southampton, Southampton SO9 4XY
  3. c Department of Microbiology, University of Leicester, Leicester LE1 9HN
  4. d MRC Common Cold Unit, Salisbury
  1. Correspondence to: Dr Johnston.
  • Accepted 7 March 1995


Objective: To study the association between upper and lower respiratory viral infections and acute exacerbations of asthma in schoolchildren in the community.

Design: Community based 13 month longitudinal study using diary card respiratory symptom and peak expiratory flow monitoring to allow early sampling for viruses.

Subjects: 108 Children aged 9-11 years who had reported wheeze or cough, or both, in a questionnaire.

Setting: Southampton and surrounding community.

Main outcome measures: Upper and lower respiratory viral infections detected by polymerase chain reaction or conventional methods, reported exacerbations of asthma, computer identified episodes of respiratory tract symptoms or peak flow reductions.

Results: Viruses were detected in 80% of reported episodes of reduced peak expiratory flow, 80% of reported episodes of wheeze, and in 85% of reported episodes of upper respiratory symptoms, cough, wheeze, and a fall in peak expiratory flow. The median duration of reported falls in peak expiratory flow was 14 days, and the median maximum fall in peak expiratory flow was 81 1/min. The most commonly identified virus type was rhinovirus.

Conclusions: This study supports the hypothesis that upper respiratory viral infections are associated with 80-85% of asthma exacerbations in school age children.

Key messages

  • Key messages

  • In this study common cold viruses were found in 80-85% of reported exacerbations of asthma in children

  • Rhinoviruses, which cause most common colds, accounted for two thirds of viruses detected

  • Analysis of diary cards also showed large numbers of similar but less severe episodes that may also be viral in origin


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