Background: In addition to the human coronaviruses (HCoVs) OC43 and 229E, which have been known for decades to cause infection in humans, 2 new members of this genus have recently been identified: HCoVs NL63 and HKU1. Their impact as a cause of respiratory tract disease in adults at risk for complications needs to be established.
Methods: We prospectively assessed the clinical impact of coronavirus infection (excluding cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome) among hospitalized adults. All patients with respiratory disease for whom bronchoalveolar lavage was performed were screened by reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction for the presence of all 4 HCoVs.
Results: HCoV was identified in 29 (5.4%) of 540 bronchoalveolar lavage fluid specimens from 279 subjects (mean age, 51 years; 63% male). HCoV OC43 was identified most frequently (12 isolates), followed by 229E (7 isolates), NL63 (6 isolates), and HKU1 (4 isolates). In all, 372 (69%) of 540 bronchoalveolar lavage fluid specimens were negative for bacteria, and 2 persons were coinfected with other respiratory viruses. Transplantation was the most common underlying condition. Of the 29 patients who had HCoV identified in their bronchoalveolar lavage fluid specimens, 9 (31%) were hospitalized in the intensive care unit, 22 (76%) presented to the hospital with acute respiratory symptoms, 16 (55%) presented with cough and/or sputum, 13 (45%) presented with dyspnea, 16 (55%) had experienced prior respiratory infection, and 18 (62%) had a new infiltrate that was visible on chest radiograph. The most frequent final diagnosis was a lower respiratory tract infection.
Conclusions: The recently discovered HCoVs NL63 and HKU1 contribute significantly to the overall spectrum of coronavirus infection. Our study also suggests that coronaviruses contribute to respiratory symptoms in most cases.