Background: Non-severe acute respiratory syndrome (non-SARS)-related human coronaviruses (HCoVs), including HCoV-229E, -HKU1, -NL63, and -OC43, have been detected in respiratory tract samples from children and adults. However, the natural prevalence of antibodies against these viruses in serum among population is unknown.
Methods: To measure antibodies to the spike (S) protein of the four common non-SARS HCoVs, recombinant S proteins of the four HCoVs were expressed and characterised in 293 T cell. An S-protein-based indirect immunofluorescence assay (IFA) was then developed to detect anti-S IgG and IgM for the four individual HCoVs and applied to serum samples from a general asymptomatic population (218 children and 576 adults) in Beijing.
Results: Of 794 blood samples tested, only 29 (3.65%) were negative for anti-S IgG. The seropositivity of the four anti-S IgG antibodies was >70% within the general population. The majority of seroconversions to four-HCoV positivity first occurred in children. Both S-IgG and S-IgM antibodies were detectable among children and increased with age, reaching a plateau at 6 years of age. However, no anti-S IgM was detected in healthy adults.
Conclusion: Large proportions of children and adults in Beijing have evidence of anti-S IgG against four the HCoVs, and first infections by all four non-SARS HCoVs takes place during childhood.