(See the editorial commentary by McCullers and Hayden, on pages 870–2.)
Background. Influenza B virus infection causes rates of hospitalization and influenza-associated pneumonia similar to seasonal influenza A virus infection and accounts for a substantial percentage of all influenza-related hospitalizations and deaths among those aged <18 years; however, the pathogenesis of fatal influenza B virus infection is poorly described.
Methods. Tissue samples obtained at autopsy from 45 case patients with fatal influenza B virus infection were evaluated by light microscopy and immunohistochemical assays for influenza B virus, various bacterial pathogens, and complement components C4d and C9, to identify the cellular tropism of influenza B virus, characterize concomitant bacterial pneumonia, and describe the spectrum of cardiopulmonary injury.
Results. Viral antigens were localized to ciliated respiratory epithelium and cells of submucosal glands and ducts. Concomitant bacterial pneumonia, caused predominantly by Staphylococcus aureus, was identified in 38% of case patients and occurred with significantly greater frequency in those aged >18 years. Pathologic evidence of myocardial injury was identified in 69% of case patients for whom cardiac tissue samples were available for examination, predominantly in case patients aged <18 years.
Conclusions. Our findings suggest that bacterial pneumonia and cardiac injury contribute to fatal outcomes after infection with influenza B virus and that the frequency of these manifestations may be age related.