This prospective clinical and virological study of 2,060 otherwise healthy children aged <15 years of age (1,112 males; mean age +/- SD, 3.46 +/- 3.30 years) who attended the Emergency Department of Milan University's Institute of Pediatrics because of an acute disease excluding trauma during the winter season 2003-2004 was designed to compare the prevalence and clinical importance of human coronaviruses (HCoVs) in children. Real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) in nasopharyngeal aspirates revealed HCoV infection in 79 cases (3.8%): 33 HCoV-229E (1.6%), 13 HCoV-NL63 (0.6%), 11 HCoV-OC43 (0.5%), none HCoV-HKU1 genotype A, and 22 (1.1%) co-detections of a HCoV and another respiratory virus. The HCoVs were identified mainly in children with upper respiratory tract infection; there was no significant difference in clinical presentation between single HCoV infections and HCoV co-infections. Diagnostic methods were used in a limited number of patients, and the therapy prescribed and clinical outcomes were similar regardless of the viral strain. There were a few cases of other members of the households of HCoV-positive children falling ill during the 5-7 days following enrollment. These findings suggest that HCoV-229E and HCoV-OC43 have a limited clinical and socioeconomic impact on otherwise healthy children and their household contacts, and the HCoV-NL63 identified recently does not seem to be any different. The quantitative and qualitative role of HCoV-HKU1 genotype A is apparently very marginal.
(c) 2006 Wiley-Liss, Inc.