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Interactions between seasonal human coronaviruses and implications for the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic: A retrospective study in Stockholm, Sweden, 2009-2020

By Robert Dyrdak, Emma B Hodcroft, Martina Wahlund, Richard A Neher, Jan Albert

Posted 02 Oct 2020
medRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.10.01.20205096

ObjectivesThe four seasonal coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 are frequent causes of respiratory infections and show annual and seasonal variation. Increased understanding about these patterns could be informative about the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2. MethodsResults from PCR diagnostics for the seasonal coronaviruses, and other respiratory viruses, were obtained for 55,190 clinical samples analyzed at the Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden, between 14 September 2009 and 2 April 2020. ResultsSeasonal coronaviruses were detected in 2,130 samples (3.9%). OC43 was most commonly detected (28.4% of detections), followed by NL63 (24.0%), HKU1 (17.6%), and 229E (15.3%). The overall fraction of positive samples was relatively similar between seasons. In contrast, at species level there was distinct pattern of biennial alternating peak seasons for the Alphacoronaviruses, 229E and NL63, and the Betacoronaviruses, OC43 and HKU1, respectively. The Betacoronaviruses peaked earlier in the winter season (Dec-Jan) than the Alphacoronaviruses (Feb-Mar). Coronaviruses were detected across all ages, but diagnostics were more frequently requested for paediatric patients than adults and the elderly. The species showed different age distributions, with OC43 and 229E positivity being relatively constant across age strata, while the incidence of NL63 and HKU1 decreased with age. ConclusionsBoth the Alphacoronaviruses and Betacoronaviruses showed alternating biennial winter incidence peaks, which suggests some type of immune mediated interaction. Symptomatic reinfections in adults and the elderly appear relatively common. Both findings may be of relevance for the epidemiology of SARS-CoV-2.

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