Severe febrile respiratory illnesses as a cause of mass critical care

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12 Scopus citations


Febrile respiratory illnesses with respiratory failure are one of the most common reasons for admission to the intensive care unit. Most causes of febrile respiratory illness are bacterial and viral agents of community-acquired pneumonia. However, a small number of rare and highly contagious agents can initially present as febrile respiratory illnesses, which can lead to an epidemic that can greatly impact the health care system. This impact includes sustained mass critical care, with potential scarcity of critical resources (eg, positive-pressure ventilators), spread of disease to health care workers, sustained spread within the community, and extensive morbidity and mortality. The main agents of febrile respiratory illness that would lead to an epidemic include influenza, the coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, smallpox, viral hemorrhagic fever, plague, tularemia, and anthrax. Recognition of these agents occurs largely based on epidemiological clues, and management consists of antibiotics, antivirals, supportive care, and positive-pressure ventilation. Acute respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome occur with these agents, so a lung-protective (low tidal volume) ventilation strategy is indicated. Additional respiratory care measures, such as nebulized medications, bronchoscopy, humidified oxygen, and airway suctioning, potentiate aerosolization of the virus or bacteria and increase the risk of transmission to health care workers and patients. Thus, appropriate personal protective equipment, including an N95 mask or powered air-purifying respirator, is indicated. A basic understanding of the epidemiology, clinical findings, diagnosis, and treatment of these agents will provide a foundation for early isolation, evaluation, infection control, and public health involvement and response in cases of a febrile respiratory illness that causes respiratory failure.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)40-53
Number of pages14
JournalRespiratory Care
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2008


  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Bioterrorism
  • Febrile respiratory illness
  • Infection control
  • Respiratory failure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine
  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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