A six-year descriptive epidemiological study of human coronavirus infections in hospitalized patients in Hong Kong
We have recently described the discovery of a novel coronavirus, coronavirus HKU1 (CoV-HKU1), associated with community-acquired pneumonia. However, the clinical spectrum of disease and the epidemiology of CoV-HKU1 infections in relation to infections with other respiratory viruses are unknown. In this 12-month prospective study, 4,181 nasopharyngeal aspirates from patients with acute respiratory tract infections were subjected to reverse transcription-PCRs specific for CoV-HKU1 and human coronaviruses NL63 (HCoV-NL63), OC43 (HCoV-OC43), and 229E (HCoV-229E). Coronaviruses were detected in 87 (2.1%) patients, with 13 (0.3%) positive for CoV-HKU1, 17 (0.4%) positive for HCoV-NL63, 53 (1.3%) positive for HCoV-OC43, and 4 (0.1%) positive for HCoV-229E. Of the 13 patients with CoV-HKU1 infections, 11 were children and 8 had underlying diseases. Similar to the case for other coronaviruses, upper respiratory infection was the most common presentation of CoV-HKU1 infections, although pneumonia, acute bronchiolitis, and asthmatic exacerbation also occurred. Despite a shorter duration of fever (mean, 1.7 days) and no difference in maximum temperature in children with CoV-HKU1 infections compared to patients with most other respiratory virus infections, a high incidence of febrile seizures (50%) was noted, which was significantly higher than those for HCoV-OC43 (14%), adenovirus (9%), human parainfluenza virus 1 (0%), and respiratory syncytial virus (8%) infections. CoV-HKU1 and HCoV-OC43 infections peaked in winter, although cases of the former also occurred in spring to early summer. This is in contrast to HCoV-NL63 infections, which mainly occurred in early summer and autumn but were absent in winter. Two genotypes of CoV-HKU1 cocirculated during the study period. Continuous studies over a longer period are warranted to ascertain the seasonal variation and relative importance of the different coronaviruses. Similar studies in other countries are required to better determine the epidemiology and genetic diversity of CoV-HKU1.