Background: 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.
Objective: We sought to determine the epidemiology, clinical characteristics, outcomes and severity of illness associated with HCoV-OC43 infections in a pediatric population.
Methods: 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.
Results: 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.
Conclusions: 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.