Surveillance of endemic human coronaviruses (HCoV-NL63, OC43 and 229E) associated with childhood pneumonia in Kilifi, Kenya

Otieno GP, Murunga N, Agoti CN, Gallagher KE, Awori JO, Nokes DJ
Wellcome Open Res. 2020;5

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Introduction: Human coronaviruses (HCoVs) circulate endemically in human populations, often with seasonal variation. We describe the long-term patterns of paediatric disease associated with three of these viruses, HCoV-NL63, OC43 and 229E, in coastal Kenya. Methods: Continuous surveillance of pneumonia admissions was conducted at the Kilifi county hospital (KCH) located in the northern coastal region of Kenya. Children aged <5 years admitted to KCH with clinically defined syndromic severe or very severe pneumonia were recruited. Respiratory samples were taken and tested for 15 virus targets, using real-time polymerase chain reaction. Unadjusted odds ratios were used to estimate the association between demographic and clinical characteristics and HCoV positivity. Results: From 2007 to 2019, we observed 11,445 pneumonia admissions, of which 314 (3.9%) tested positive for at least one of the HCoV types surveyed in the study. There were 129 (41.1%) OC43, 99 (31.5%) 229E, 74 (23.6%) NL63 positive cases and 12 (3.8%) cases of HCoV to HCoV coinfection. Among HCoV positive cases, 47% (n=147) were coinfected with other respiratory virus pathogens. The majority of HCoV cases were among children aged <1 year (66%, n=208), though there was was no change in the proportion infected by age. HCoV-OC43 was predominant of the three HCoV types throughout the surveillance period. Evidence for seasonality was not identified. Conclusions: Overall, 4% of paediatric pneumonia admissions were associated with three endemic HCoVs, with a high proportion of cases co-occurring with another respiratory virus, no clear seasonal pattern, and with the age-distribution of cases following that of pneumonia admissions (i.e. highest in infants). These observations suggest, at most, a small severe disease contribution of endemic HCoVs in this tropical setting and offer insight into their potential future burden and epidemiological characteristics.