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Respiratory viruses circulate constantly in the ambient air. The risk of opportunistic infection from these viruses can be increased in mechanically ventilated patients. The present study evaluates the feasibility of detecting airborne respiratory viruses in mechanically ventilated patients using a novel sample collection method involving ventilator filters.
We collected inspiratory and expiratory filters from the ventilator circuits of mechanically ventilated patients in an intensive care unit over a 14-month period. To evaluate whether we could detect respiratory viruses collected in these filters, we performed a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction on the extracted filter membrane with primers specific for rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus A and B, parainfluenza virus (type 1, 2 and 3) and human metapneumovirus. For each patient, we also performed a full virology screen (virus particles, antibody titres and virus-induced biomarkers) on respiratory samples (nasopharyngeal swab, tracheal aspirate or bronchoalveolar fluid) and blood samples.
Respiratory viruses were detected in the ventilator filters of nearly half the patients in the study cohort (n = 33/70). The most common virus detected was influenza A virus (n = 29). There were more viruses detected in the inspiratory filters (n = 18) than in the expiratory filters (n = 15). A third of the patients with a positive virus detection in the ventilator filters had a hospital laboratory confirmed viral infection. In the remaining cases, the detected viruses were different from viruses already identified in the same patient, suggesting that these additional viruses come from the ambient air or from cross-contamination (staff or visitors). In patients in whom new viruses were detected in the ventilator filters, there was no evidence of clinical signs of an active viral infection. Additionally, the levels of virus-induced biomarker in these patients were not statistically different from those of non-infected patients (p = 0.33).
Respiratory viruses were present within the ventilator circuits of patients receiving mechanical ventilation. Although no adverse clinical effect was evident in these patients, further studies are warranted, given the small sample size of the study and the recognition that ventilated patients are potentially susceptible to opportunistic infection from airborne respiratory viruses.