Influenza is a well established cause of seasonal hospitalizations and deaths among older persons. However, influenza is frequently underdiagnosed by physicians, because its clinical presentations are often complex, particularly in elderly patients. We report the case of a 78-year-old woman admitted to the emergency department in January 2008 with fever, vomiting, and a history of asthenia and falls in the preceding three days. Diagnosis of influenza at admission was missed. Influenza was diagnosed by direct fluorescent antibody in a sputum specimen four days later, but the evolution was rapidly unfavorable with fatal respiratory distress syndrome. This case illustrates that, during the influenza season, influenza should be suspected in elderly patients admitted to hospital even if they do not present with classical symptoms. Immunofluorescence testing on sputum specimens can provide a rapid diagnosis and merits further evaluation.
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