Aim: This study has two objectives: to study the clinical symptoms associated with the detection of the four human coronaviruses (HCoVs), 229E, OC43, NL63 and HKU1 types, in the respiratory specimens sampled from hospitalised children in France between September 2004 and May 2005; and to develop a multiplex reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) assay allowing for the simultaneous detection of the four HCoVs.
Methods: 1002 respiratory specimens were tested for HCoVs. The clinical and epidemiological data were compared on the basis of the type HCoV infection.
Results: A hundred coronaviruses, 33 NL63, 2229E, 27 OC43 and 38 HKU1, were detected in 97 (9.8%) of 1002 samples negative in routine tests. The clinical and epidemiological characteristics of the study children were compared in three groups, 24 OC43-, 27 NL63- and 34 HKU1-infected children. HCoVs were identified mainly in children with upper and lower respiratory tract infections (50.5% vs. 29.4%). The significant difference in clinical presentation between the three coronavirus groups was the very low association between lower respiratory tract illness and HKU1 detection.
Conclusions: HCoV detection in hospitalised children without any other respiratory virus detection was associated with upper and a significant rate of lower respiratory tract illness. The four types of HCoVs were detected, and new types NL63 and HKU1 represented a substantial portion of detection. The multiplex RT-PCR enabled a sensitive one-time detection and the characterisation of all of the known HCoV types with the exception severe acute respiratory syndrome-coronavirus.