Background: Human respiratory coronavirus (hCoV) HKU1 infections were reported for the first time in 2005 in Hong Kong.
Objective: To investigate epidemiological, clinical, and diagnostic features of HKU1 infections.
Study design: Longitudinal, prospective study from November 2005 through May 2006 in a hospitalised patient population.
Results: Overall, 48/426 (11.3%) patients were found to be infected by hCoV acute respiratory tract infections (ARTI). Of these, 10 (19.2%) were caused by HKU1 (6 single infections and 4 coinfections) during the period January-May 2006. Diagnosis was made by using RT-PCR for all four hCoVs, and in parallel, in-house developed group-specific monoclonal antibodies (MAbs) for HKU1 and 229E. HKU1-specific MAb was able to retrospectively identify 8 of 10 HKU1 strains detected by RT-PCR. Phylogenetic analysis showed that four HKU1 strains were genotype A and six genotype B. In HKU1-infected patients, the predominant clinical symptom was rhinorrhea (nine patients). Within group II hCoV, HKU1-infected patients had a significantly lower rate of lower ARTI compared to OC43-infected patients.
Conclusion: HKU1 hCoV strains circulated in northern Italy during the winter-spring season 2005-2006. Both HKU1 genotypes were detected. HKU1-specific MAb may contribute to the rapid diagnosis of HKU1 infections currently performed by RT-PCR.