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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

First infection by all four non-severe acute respiratory syndrome human coronaviruses takes place during childhood

Weimin Zhou, Wen Wang, Huijuan Wang, Roujian Lu and Wenjie Tan*

Author Affiliations

Key Laboratory of Medical Virology, Ministry of Health; National Institute for Viral Disease Control and Prevention, China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Beijing 102206, China

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BMC Infectious Diseases 2013, 13:433  doi:10.1186/1471-2334-13-433

Published: 16 September 2013



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.


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.


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.


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.

Human coronavirus; Spike protein; Indirect immunofluorescence assay; Antibody