Epidemiology of Seasonal Coronaviruses: Establishing the Context for the Emergence of Coronavirus Disease 2019

J Infect Dis. 2020 Jun 16;222(1):17-25. doi: 10.1093/infdis/jiaa185.


Public health preparedness for coronavirus (CoV) disease 2019 (COVID-19) is challenging in the absence of setting-specific epidemiological data. Here we describe the epidemiology of seasonal CoVs (sCoVs) and other cocirculating viruses in the West of Scotland, United Kingdom. We analyzed routine diagnostic data for >70 000 episodes of respiratory illness tested molecularly for multiple respiratory viruses between 2005 and 2017. Statistical associations with patient age and sex differed between CoV-229E, CoV-OC43, and CoV-NL63. Furthermore, the timing and magnitude of sCoV outbreaks did not occur concurrently, and coinfections were not reported. With respect to other cocirculating respiratory viruses, we found evidence of positive, rather than negative, interactions with sCoVs. These findings highlight the importance of considering cocirculating viruses in the differential diagnosis of COVID-19. Further work is needed to establish the occurrence/degree of cross-protective immunity conferred across sCoVs and with COVID-19, as well as the role of viral coinfection in COVID-19 disease severity.

Keywords: SARS-CoV-2; Acute respiratory infections; Coinfection; Disease surveillance; Virus-virus interactions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Betacoronavirus*
  • COVID-19
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Coinfection
  • Coronavirus 229E, Human / genetics*
  • Coronavirus Infections / epidemiology*
  • Coronavirus Infections / virology
  • Coronavirus NL63, Human / genetics*
  • Coronavirus OC43, Human / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pandemics*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / epidemiology*
  • Pneumonia, Viral / virology
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • SARS-CoV-2
  • Scotland / epidemiology
  • Seasons*
  • Young Adult