Occupants of 482 long-stay and 33 short-stay beds in 11 Leicester City Council homes for the elderly were studied during a 30-week period from September 1988 to March 1989 to determine the incidence, aetiology, morbidity, and mortality of acute upper respiratory tract viral infections and the use of influenza vaccine.
Influenza immunization rates by home ranged from 15·4 to 90% (mean 45%). There were no differences in the distribution of medical conditions by home. The highest immunization rates were seen in people with chest disease (77%), heart disease (60%), diabetes (56%), and those with three medical conditions (75%). There was an average of 0·7 upper respiratory episodes per bed per annum with a mortality of 3·4% (6/179). Half of all episodes were seen by a general medical practitioner and 81 of 90 (90%) referrals were prescribed antibiotics costing approximately £7.50 per patient. Lower respiratory tract complications developed during 45 (25%) of 179 episodes including 3 of 12 coronavirus infections, 3 of 9 respiratory syncytial virus infections, 2 of 4 adenovirus infections, 1 of 11 rhinovirus infections, but none of 5 influenza infections. Respiratory infections were caused mostly by pathogens other than influenza virus during the influenza period documented nationally. This highlights the role of coronaviruses, respiratory syncytial virus, and unidentified agents in the elderly, and questions the assumptions made in American estimates on the impact of influenza and the value of influenza vaccines.