Background: Human coronaviruses (HCoVs) have been detected in children with upper and lower respiratory symptoms, but little is known about their relationship with severe respiratory illness.
Objective: To compare the prevalence of HCoV species among children hospitalized for acute respiratory illness and/or fever (ARI/fever) with that among asymptomatic controls and to assess the severity of outcomes among hospitalized children with HCoV infection compared with other respiratory viruses.
Methods: From December 2003 to April 2004 and October 2004 to April 2005, we conducted prospective, population-based surveillance of children <5 years of age hospitalized for ARI/fever in 3 US counties. Asymptomatic outpatient controls were enrolled concurrently. Nasal/throat swabs were tested for HCoV species HKU1, NL63, 229E, and OC43 by real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction. Specimens from hospitalized children were also tested for other common respiratory viruses. Demographic and medical data were collected by parent/guardian interview and medical chart review.
Results: Overall, HCoV was detected in 113 (7.6%) of 1481 hospitalized children (83 [5.7%] after excluding 30 cases coinfected with other viruses) and 53 (7.1%) of 742 controls. The prevalence of HCoV or individual species was not significantly higher among hospitalized children than controls. Hospitalized children testing positive for HCoV alone tended to be less ill than those infected with other viruses, whereas those coinfected with HCoV and other viruses were clinically similar to those infected with other viruses alone.
Conclusions: In this study of children hospitalized for ARI/fever, HCoV infection was not associated with hospitalization or with increased severity of illness.