We compared the burden of illness due to a spectrum of respiratory diagnostic categories among persons presenting in a sentinel general practice network in England and Wales during periods of influenza and of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) activity. During all periods of viral activity, incidence rates of influenza-like illness, bronchitis and common cold were elevated compared to those in baseline periods. Excess rates per 100 000 of acute bronchitis were greater in children aged <1 year (median difference 2702, 95% CI 929–4867) and in children aged 1–4 years (994, 95% CI 338–1747) during RSV active periods rather than influenza; estimates for the two viruses were similar in other age groups. Excess rates of influenza-like illness in all age groups were clearly associated with influenza virus activity. For common cold the estimates of median excess rates were significantly higher in RSV active periods for the age groups <1 year (3728, 95% CI 632–5867) and 5–14 years (339, 95% CI 59–768); estimates were similar in other age groups for the two viruses. The clinical burden of disease associated with RSV is as great if not greater than influenza in patients of all ages presenting to general practitioners.
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