Viral infections in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

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Abstract

Purpose of review

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is a major cause of morbidity and mortality worldwide. There is increasing evidence that implicates viral infections as a major risk factor for exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Recent studies have attempted to better characterize the epidemiology of viral infections in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, identify unique clinical manifestations of virus-associated exacerbations, and develop new diagnostic tools and treatments.

Recent findings

Rhinovirus, the organism most often responsible for causing the common cold, is also the most common infectious cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. Coronavirus, influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, parainfluenza, adenovirus, and metapneumovirus are other important viral causes of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease exacerbations. These exacerbations can be severe with prolonged recovery times. Although PCR technology has dramatically increased the detection rate of viruses in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, it does not differentiate infection from colonization. The use of biomarkers represents an exciting new potential diagnostic tool that may lend new insights into the pathogenesis of viral infections in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Summary

Despite strong epidemiologic evidence linking respiratory virus infection to exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, many of the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which viruses cause exacerbations remain undetermined. Future research efforts to understand these mechanisms would aid the development of novel therapeutics to reduce the morbidity and mortality of this disease.

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