Human coronaviruses are known causes of the common cold. Subtype OC43 (HCoV-OC43) is the more prevalent human coronavirus in several parts of the world. Recent studies have suggested these viruses can cause severe lower respiratory tract illnesses in children.
We sought to determine the epidemiology, clinical characteristics, outcomes and severity of illness associated with HCoV-OC43 infections in a pediatric population.
We retrospectively identified patients with positive HCoV-OC43 respiratory specimens between December 2009 and December 2010 in a pediatric hospital in Montreal. Each case was compared with 2 controls (tested negative for HCoV-OC43). Clinical characteristics, underlying conditions, outcomes and disease severity were reviewed for both groups. Risk factors and independent predictors of disease severity were also assessed.
During the study period, 68 patients were identified as infected with HCoV-OC43 (1.8% of specimens tested, 4.2% of all respiratory viruses identified by reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction). The majority (77%) occurred in November 2010. Chief symptoms of HCoV-OC43 infection were fever (in 78% of cases), cough (67%) and upper respiratory tract infection symptoms (57%). HCoV-OC43 infection was not more frequent in children with preexisting conditions. Coinfection with other respiratory viruses was associated with lower respiratory tract infections in HCoV-OC43–infected cases, but did not lead to increased rates of hospitalization, admission to intensive care unit or death.
In our population, HCoV-OC43 infections generally caused upper respiratory tract infection, but can be associated with lower respiratory tract infection especially in those coinfected with other respiratory viruses.