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Should lower respiratory tract secretions from intensive care patients be systematically screened for influenza virus during the influenza season?

Maddalena Giannella1*, Belen Rodríguez-Sánchez12, Paula López Roa1, Pilar Catalán12, Patricia Muñoz123, Darío García de Viedma12, Emilio Bouza123 and the Gregorio Marañón Task Force for Pneumonia (GANG)

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Hospital General Universitario Gregorio Marañón, Doctor Esquerdo 46, Madrid, 28007, Spain

2 CIBER de Enfermedades Respiratorias (CIBERES), Recinto Hospital Joan March Street 2: Crta. Soller, Km 12, Bunyola, Mallorca 07110, Spain

3 Department of Medicine, Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Av de Puerta de Hierro, Madrid, 28040, Spain

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Critical Care 2012, 16:R104  doi:10.1186/cc11387

Published: 14 June 2012



Influenza is easily overlooked in intensive care units (ICUs), particularly in patients with alternative causes of respiratory failure or in those who acquire influenza during their ICU stay.


We performed a prospective study of patients admitted to three adult ICUs of our hospital from December 2010 to February 2011. All tracheal aspirate (TA) samples sent to the microbiology department were systematically screened for influenza. We defined influenza as unsuspected if testing was not requested and the patient was not receiving empirical antiviral therapy after sample collection.


We received TA samples from 105 patients. Influenza was detected in 31 patients and was classified as unsuspected in 15 (48.4%) patients, and as hospital acquired in 13 (42%) patients. Suspected and unsuspected cases were compared, and significant differences were found for age (53 versus 69 median years), severe respiratory failure (68.8% versus 20%), surgery (6.3% versus 60%), median days of ICU stay before diagnosis (1 versus 4), nosocomial infection (18.8% versus 66.7%), cough (93.8% versus 53.3%), localized infiltrate on chest radiograph (6.3% versus 40%), median days to antiviral treatment (2 versus 9), pneumonia (93.8% versus 53.3%), and acute respiratory distress syndrome (75% versus 26.7%). Multivariate analysis showed admission to the surgical ICU (odds ratio (OR), 37.1; 95% confidence interval (CI), 2.1 to 666.6; P = 0.01) and localized infiltrate on chest radiograph (OR, 27.8; 95% CI, 1.3 to 584.1; P = 0.03) to be independent risk factors for unsuspected influenza. Overall mortality at 30 days was 29%. ICU admission for severe respiratory failure was an independent risk factor for poor outcome.


During the influenza season, almost one third of critical patients with suspected lower respiratory tract infection had influenza, and in 48.4%, the influenza was unsuspected. Lower respiratory samples from adult ICUs should be systematically screened for influenza during seasonal epidemics.