Latent infection with adenovirus and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The role of respiratory viral infections are emerging in COPD exacerbations. The present study aimed to investigate the prevalence of adenovirus and RSV serotypes A and B in individuals with acute exacerbations of COPD (COPD-AE) and stable COPD. Twenty seven patients with COPD-AE were evaluated using a prospective longitudinal study design. Induced sputum, sera and nasal smears were sampled from patients experiencing COPD-AE and those in a stable condition. Adenoplex (R) multiplex polymerase chain reaction (PCR) kits and Invitek RTP (R) DNA/RNA Virus Mini kits were used for PCR assays of adenovirus and RSV, respectively. Eighteen patients who experienced a COPD-AE were also evaluated while in a stable condition. The results showed that three sputum samples were positive for adenovirus in patients experiencing an exacerbation, while one was positive among the patients in a stable condition. RSV serotype A was detected in 17/27 (63%) patients with COPD-AE and 10/18 (55.6%) patients in a stable condition. RSV serotype B was not detected. Patients with COPD-AE, who were positive for RSV serotype A exhibited higher serum fibrinogen levels than those who were negative (438.60 +/- 126.08 mg/dl compared with 287.60 +/- 85.91 mg/dl; P=0.004). Eight/ten patients who were positive for RSV serotype A while in a stable condition, were also positive during COPD-AE. The results of the present study suggested that RSV infection may be prevalent in patients with COPD-AE and in those in a stable condition. Therefore, chronic RSV infection may occur in COPD. The detection and prevention of RSV may be useful in the management of COPD.