In children suffering from severe lower airway illnesses, respiratory virus detection has given good prognostic information, but such reports in the elderly are scarce. Therefore, our aim was to study whether the detection of nasopharyngeal viral pathogens and conventional inflammatory markers in the frail elderly correlate to the presence, signs and symptoms or prognosis of radiographically-verified pneumonia.
Consecutive episodes of hospital care of patients 65 years and older with respiratory symptoms (N = 382) were prospectively studied as a cohort. Standard clinical questionnaire was filled by the study physician. Laboratory analyses included PCR diagnostics of nasopharyngeal swab samples for 14 respiratory viruses, C-reactive protein (CRP) and white blood cell count (WBC). Chest radiographs were systematically analysed by a study radiologist. The length of hospital stay, hospital revisit and death at ward were used as clinical endpoints.
Median age of the patients was 83 years (range 76-90). Pneumonia was diagnosed in 112/382 (29%) of the studied episodes. One or more respiratory viruses were detected in 141/382 (37%) episodes and in 34/112 (30%) episodes also diagnosed with pneumonia. Pneumonia was associated with a WBC over 15 × 109/L (P = .006) and a CRP value over 80 mg/l (P < .05). A virus was detected in 30% of pneumonia episodes and in 40% of non-pneumonia episodes, but this difference was not significant (P = 0.09). The presence of a respiratory virus was associated with fewer revisits to the hospital (P < .05), whereas a CRP value over 100 mg/l was associated with death during hospital stay (P < .05). Respiratory virus detections did not correlate to WBC or CRP values, signs and symptoms or prognosis of radiographically-verified pneumonia episodes.
Among the elderly with respiratory symptoms, respiratory virus detection was not associated with an increased risk of pneumonia or with a more severe clinical course of the illness. CRP and WBC remain important indicators of pneumonia, and according to our findings, pneumonia should be treated as a bacterial disease regardless of the virus findings. Our data does not support routine virus diagnostics for the elderly patients with pneumonia outside the epidemic seasons.