A new human coronavirus, HCoV-NL63, was associated recently with bronchiolitis. The current study aimed to examine retrospectively stored specimens for the presence of HCoV-NL63 using nested RT-PCR assays targeting the 1a and 1b genes. The study population was composed of patients with acute respiratory disease warranting presentation to Queensland hospitals. HCoV-NL63 was detected in the nasopharyngeal aspirates (NPA) of 16 of 840 specimens representing 766 patients (2%). HCoV-NL63 positive individuals were diagnosed most commonly with lower respiratory tract (LRT) disease (81%). The clinical diagnosis was commonly supported by an abnormal chest X-ray (56%) together with respiratory distress (50%), wheeze (44%), and rales (25%) on first presentation with HCoV-NL63 infection. All patients positive for HCoV-NL63 required admission to hospital. Among 38% of HCoV-NL63 positive specimens a second pathogen was detected. Sequencing of amplicon from gene 1b revealed more than 99% nucleotide homology with the viral type strains while sequencing amplicon from gene 1a permitted the grouping of viral strains. It was shown that HCoV-NL63 is associated with severe LRT disease in an Australian hospital setting during the cooler months of the year. We propose that HCoV-NL63 is a global and seasonal pathogen of both children and adults associated with severe LRT illness.
2005 Wiley-Liss, Inc.