Human coronaviruses and other respiratory infections in young adults on a university campus: Prevalence, symptoms, and shedding

Influenza Other Respir Viruses. 2018 Sep;12(5):582-590. doi: 10.1111/irv.12563. Epub 2018 Jul 24.


Background: The prevalence, symptom course, and shedding in persons infected with the 4 most common human coronaviruses (HCoV)-229E, HKU1, NL63, and OC43 are poorly described.

Objectives: We estimate their prevalence and associated symptoms among college students identified via a social network study design.

Patients/methods: We collected 1-3 samples (n = 250 specimens) from 176 participants between October 2012 and January 17, 2013: participants with acute respiratory infection (ARI; cough and body aches or chills or fever/feverishness) and their social contacts. Virus was detected using RT-PCR.

Results: 30.4% (76/250) of specimens tested positive for any virus tested, and 4.8% (12/250) were positive for 2 or more viruses. Human coronaviruses (HCoVs [22.0%; 55/250]), rhinovirus (7.6%; 19/250), and influenza A (6.4%; 16/250) were most prevalent. Symptoms changed significantly over time among ARI participants with HCoV: the prevalence of cough and chills decreased over 6 days (P = .04, and P = .01, respectively), while runny nose increased over the same period (P = .02). HCoV-NL63 was the most frequent virus detected 6 days following symptom onset (8.9%), followed by rhinovirus (6.7%).

Conclusions: During a 3-month period covering a single season, HCoVs were common, even among social contacts without respiratory symptoms; specific symptoms may change over the course of HCoV-associated illness and were similar to symptoms from influenza and rhinovirus.

Keywords: acute respiratory infection; coronavirus; human; influenza; symptoms; university.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / pathology*
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / virology
  • Students
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Universities
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Virus Diseases / pathology*
  • Virus Diseases / virology
  • Viruses / classification*
  • Viruses / isolation & purification*
  • Young Adult