Background Severe acute respiratory infection (SARI) results in a tremendous disease burden worldwide. Available research on active surveillance among hospitalized adult patients suffering from SARI in China is limited. This pilot study aimed to identify associated etiologies and describe the demographic, epidemiological and clinical profiles of hospitalized SARI patients aged over 16 years in Jinshan, Shanghai. Methods Active surveillance was conducted at 1 sentinel hospital in Jinshan district, Shanghai, from April 2017 to March 2018. Hospitalized SARI patients aged over 16 years old were enrolled, and nasopharyngeal swabs were collected within 24 hours of admission and tested for multiple respiratory viruses (including 18 common viruses) and Mycoplasma pneumoniae with real-time polymerase chain reaction. Demographic, epidemiological and clinical information was obtained from case report forms. Results In total, 397 SARI patients were enrolled; the median age was 68 years, and 194 (48.9%) patients were male. A total of 278 (70.0%) patients had at least one underlying chronic medical condition. The most frequent symptoms were cough (99.2%) and sputum production (88.4%). The median duration of hospitalization was 10 days. A total of 250 infection patients (63.0%) were positive for at least one pathogen, of whom 198 (49.9%) were positive for a single pathogen and 52 (13.1%) were positive for multiple pathogens. The pathogens identified most frequently were M. pneumoniae (23.9%, 95/397), followed by adenovirus (AdV) (11.6%, 46/397), influenza virus A/H3N2 (Flu A/H3N2) (11.1%, 44/397), human rhinovirus (HRhV) (8.1%, 32/397), influenza virus B/Yamagata (Flu B/Yamagata) (6.3%, 25/397), pandemic influenza virus A/H1N1 (Flu A/pH1N1) (4.0%, 16/397), parainfluenza virus (PIV) type 1 (2.0%, 8/397), human coronavirus (HCoV) type NL63 (2.0%, 8/397), HCoV 229E (1.5%, 6/397), HCoV HKU1 (1.5%, 6/397), PIV 3 (1.5%, 6/397), human metapneumovirus (HMPV) (1.5%, 6/397), PIV 4 (1.3%, 5/397), HCoV OC43 (1.0%, 4/397), influenza virus B/Victoria (Flu B/Victoria) (0.5%, 2/397), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) type B (0.5%, 2/397), and human bocavirus (HBoV) (0.3%, 1/397). The seasonality of pathogen-confirmed SARI patients had a bimodal distribution, with the first peak in the summer and the second peak in the winter. Statistically significant differences were observed with respect to the rates of dyspnea, radiographically diagnosed pneumonia and the presence of at least one comorbidity in patients who were infected with only M. pneumoniae, AdV, HRhV, Flu A/H3N2, Flu A /pH1N1 or Flu B/Yamagata. The differences in the positivity rates of the above 6 pathogens among the different age groups were nonsignificant. Conclusions M. pneumoniae, AdV and Flu A/H3N2 were the main pathogens detected in hospitalized SARI patients aged over 16 years old in Jinshan district, Shanghai. Our findings highlight the importance of sustained multipathogen surveillance among SARI patients in sentinel hospitals, which can provide useful information on SARI etiologies, epidemiology, and clinical characteristics.