Background: Nasal bacterial colonization is often dubbed “asymptomatic.” We hypothesized that rhinitis, common in preschool children, is associated with bacterial colonization and that respiratory viruses, which cause rhinitis, interact with bacteria in ways which promote transmission.
Methods: Five hundred eighty-five children (4.2–73.6 months) attending daycare had clinical information, a rhinitis score and nasal swabs collected in February 2009. Swabs in soya tryptone glucose glycerine broth were cultured for Streptococcus pneumoniae (Sp), Haemophilus influenzae (Hi) and Staphylococcus aureus and analyzed by real-time polymerase chain reaction for respiratory viruses, both semiquantitatively.
Results: Rhinitis symptoms, carriage of Sp and Hi and viral infection fell, whereas S. aureus carriage rates rose with age. Significant, age-independent associations between rhinitis symptoms and detection of Hi (P < 0.033) and Hi colonization density (P < 0.027) were observed. Of the 42% with detected viruses, most (78%) had picornavirus infection. There was a significant age-independent association between viral infection (and viral load, picornavirus infection and picornaviral load) and detection of Sp (P = 0.020, 0.035, 0.005, 0.014) and between viral infection and viral load and Sp colonization density (P = 0.024, 0.028).
Conclusions: Hi may promote its own transmission by inducing or amplifying rhinitis in children. There is a close quantitative relationship between respiratory viral infection, including picornavirus infection and Sp colonization. These findings have implications for understanding disease pathogenesis and formulating prevention strategies using vaccines.