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Early nasopharyngeal microbial signature associated with severe influenza in children: a retrospective pilot study


A few studies have highlighted the importance of the respiratory microbiome in modulating the frequency and outcome of viral respiratory infections. However, there are insufficient data on the use of microbial signatures as prognostic biomarkers to predict respiratory disease outcomes. In this study, we aimed to evaluate whether specific bacterial community compositions in the nasopharynx of children at the time of hospitalization are associated with different influenza clinical outcomes. We utilized retrospective nasopharyngeal (NP) samples (n=36) collected at the time of hospital arrival from children who were infected with influenza virus and had been symptomatic for less than 2 days. Based on their clinical course, children were classified into two groups: patients with mild influenza, and patients with severe respiratory or neurological complications. We implemented custom 16S rRNA gene sequencing, metagenomic sequencing and computational analysis workflows to classify the bacteria present in NP specimens at the species level. We found that increased bacterial diversity in the nasopharynx of children was strongly associated with influenza severity. In addition, patients with severe influenza had decreased relative abundance of Staphylococcus aureus and increased abundance of Prevotella (including P. melaninogenica), Streptobacillus, Porphyromonas, Granulicatella (including G. elegans), Veillonella (including V. dispar), Fusobacterium and Haemophilus in their nasopharynx. This pilot study provides proof-of-concept data for the use of microbial signatures as prognostic biomarkers of influenza outcomes. Further large prospective cohort studies are needed to refine and validate the performance of such microbial signatures in clinical settings.

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