OBJECTIVES. The objective of this study was to calculate sensitivity values for the detection of major respiratory viruses of childhood by using combined nose-throat swabs and nasopharyngeal aspirates.

METHODS. Children who had symptoms and presented to a pediatric teaching hospital and had a diagnostic respiratory specimen collected were enrolled, and paired nose-throat swab and nasopharyngeal aspirate specimens were collected. Parents were asked to collect the nose-throat swab specimen in the first instance but could defer to a health care worker if unwilling. Nose-throat swab collectors were asked to rate perceived quality of collection. All nasopharyngeal aspirates were collected by a health care worker by using a standard protocol. Real-time polymerase chain reaction for 8 respiratory viruses was performed in our hospital's diagnostic laboratory.

RESULTS. Paired nose-throat swab/nasopharyngeal aspirate specimens were collected during 303 illnesses, with at least 1 respiratory virus identified in 186 (61%). For the major pathogens of childhood, influenza A virus and respiratory syncytial virus, collection by using the nose-throat swab had a sensitivity of 91.9% and 93.1%, respectively. A health care worker collected 219 (72%) of the nose-throat swab specimens; concordance with the nasopharyngeal aspirate was not related to health care worker collection or perceived quality of collection.

CONCLUSIONS. Nose-throat swab specimens, in combination with sensitive molecular testing, are a less invasive diagnostic respiratory specimen with adequate sensitivity for use in the clinic and hospital outpatient settings and large-scale community studies through parent collection. For children who present to a hospital in which an avian or pandemic strain of influenza virus is reasonably part of the differential diagnosis, nasopharyngeal aspirates or a similar collection technique (eg, nasal washes) should continue to be used.

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