Nasal and Otologic Effects of Experimental Influenza a Virus Infection

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Past studies showed that experimental rhinovirus colds in adults resulted in eustachian tube dysfunction and abnormal middle ear pressures. In the present study, the symptoms and pathophysiologic findings accompanying experimental influenza viral infection were documented. A total of 33 healthy adult volunteers were intranasally challenged with an influenza A/Kawasaki/86 (H1N1) virus and cloistered over a 9-day postchallenge period to monitor for evidence of infection, signs and symptoms of illness, and the extent and frequency of pathophysiologic responses of the nose, eustachian tube, and middle ear. Results showed a protective effect of high (≥16) prechallenge specific hemagglutination-inhibition antibody titer on the rate of infection and the magnitude and extent of provoked symptoms and pathophysiologic findings. Infected subjects with low (<16) prechallenge serum antibody titers (n = 21) developed significant respiratory illness. These subjects also had objectively measurable increases in nasal secretion production, and decreased nasal patency and mucociliary clearance rates. More than 80% of the infected subjects developed eustachian tube dysfunction, and approximately 80% had middle ear underpressures of less than −100 mm H2O on study days 4 and 5. Five of 21 infected subjects with low prechallenge antibody titers had otoscopic evidence of otitis media with effusion. These results support a causal role for viral upper respiratory tract infection in the pathogenesis of otitis media, possibly mediated by the early development of eustachian tube dysfunction and abnormal middle ear pressure.

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