Recent advances are allowing the transfer of sensitive and precise rapid viral antigen detection technology from sophisticated research laboratories to standardly equipped clinical diagnostic facilities. It is now possible to identify many viral respiratory pathogens directly from clinical specimens in less than 1 hr. Rapid antigen detection promises to be of the most value in the identification of respiratory viruses 1) for which antiviral therapy is available, 2) which can be prevented by employing isolation precautions, chemoprophylaxis, and/or immunization, 3) whose presence usually is associated with acute respiratory disease, not just asymptomatic colonization, and 4) which ordinarily are not associated with concomitant bacterial infection, and thus, whose early detection may allow withholding or withdrawing antibiotics. Based on these considerations, the relative usefulness of rapid viral antigen detection of commonly encountered respiratory pathogens will be discussed. In addition, the role of rapid viral detection in diagnosis of respiratory infections in high risk versus otherwise healthy individuals will be explored.