Illness and otological changes during upper respiratory virus infection

William J. Doyle, Cuneyt M. Alper, Craig A. Buchman, Stephanie A. Moody, David P. Skoner, Sheldon Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Objectives:Upper respiratory virus infection is associated with the expression of symptoms and signs of illness, and with the development of complications in anatomically contiguous structures. In most epidemiological studies, the frequency of the various complications is expressed as a fraction of the total population judged to be ill by report, signs, or symptoms. Because not all infected subjects become ill and because infected non-ill subjects may develop complications, such risk estimates could be inaccurate. The objective of this study was to estimate the magnitude of the presentation bias during controlled, experimental infections.Study Design:This was a prospective, experimental study of the relationship between illness and otological complications during experimental upper respiratory virus infection in 316 adult volunteers.Methods:The data for illness and for abnormal middle ear underpressure in adult (18-54 y) volunteers experimentally infected with one of three viruses (rhinovirus type 39, rhinovirus strain hanks, influenza A virus) were analyzed and expressed as the relative frequencies of infected subjects reporting illness, developing abnormal middle ear pressure, and developing abnormal middle ear pressure in the absence of illness.Results:For all three viruses, illness was documented in approximately 50% of the infected subjects. While the frequency of persons developing abnormal middle ear underpressure was greater in the infected-ill subjects, approximately one third of all infected subjects developing that complication did not report illness.Conclusions:These results support a large presentation bias in epidemiological surveys of viral upper respiratory infections, and infer that those surveys underestimate the true frequency of complications resulting from such infections.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)324-328
Number of pages5
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1999


  • Viral upper respiratory infection
  • influenza virus
  • otitis media
  • rhinovirus


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