While significant morbidity due to respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) infection in the paediatric population has been well acknowledged, little is known about the burden of influenza in primarily healthy children in Europe. In our institution, a University Children's Hospital in Switzerland, medical staff were encouraged to take nasopharyngeal specimens for multiplex polymerase chain reaction assays for influenza A and B, RSV and several other pathogens from patients hospitalised with respiratory symptoms. We took advantage of this strategy and performed a retrospective study to compare specific characteristics of influenza virus infections with those of RSV during two consecutive winter seasons. Overall, 126 patients were positive for RSV and 60 patients were positive for influenza (type A: 45; type B: 15). The median age of children with RSV, influenza A, and influenza B infection was 4 months; 2 years and 4 months; and 6 years and 2 months, respectively (P<0.001). Fever and cough predominated in children with influenza infection whereas cough, rhinorrhoea, feeding difficulties and dyspnoea were the major symptoms in children with RSV infection. Of patients with influenza, 41% suffered from lower respiratory tract infection compared to 91% of those with RSV infection (P<0.001). Of 60 patients hospitalised with influenza, 12 (20%) experienced febrile convulsions. None of the patients with influenza had been immunised in the respective winter season, although 27% of them had at least one underlying medical condition that would have counted as an indication for immunisation in Switzerland.Conclusion:
influenza virus infections, like respiratory syncytial virus infections, are a major cause of hospitalisation in children with respiratory illness during the winter season. Since it is impossible to make an aetiological diagnosis on clinical grounds, it is important to apply specific diagnostic tools in children hospitalised with respiratory illness in order to better characterise the relative burden of disease caused by the respective agents.