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Acute respiratory infections may be classified in several different ways: by their symptoms (fever, sore throat, cough, ear pain, runny nose); by their clinical manifestations (coryza, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, epiglottitis, otitis media, influenza, bronchitis, pneumonia); or by causative organism. Furthermore, their symptoms and sometimes the whole clinical picture may be shared by conditions that are not infections (asthma, allergic rhinitis). Some of this complexity is shown in Figure 46.1.
Elucidating the exact location or responsible organism is usually clinically unhelpful. In this chapter, we focus on diagnostic questions that have the greatest impact on the patient with an acute respiratory infection. Sometimes the question is important because it affects the management of the illness (for example Does this patient have pneumonia? Is this asthma or acute bronchitis?); sometimes it is because the infection can have important sequelae (streptococcal infection); and finally there is the potentially extremely important question of identifying possible cases of avian influenza.
This document has been peer reviewed.