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Camila S Silva, Lisa B Mullis, Olavo Pereira Jr, Linda J Saif, Anastasia Vlasova, Xuming Zhang, Randall J Owens, Dale Paulson, Deborah Taylor, Lia M Haynes and Marli P Azevedo
Acute respiratory viruses often result in significant morbidity and mortality. The potential impact of human respiratory coronavirus (CoV) infections was underestimated until the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARSCoV) outbreak in 2003, which showed that new, highly pathogenic coronaviruses could be introduced to humans, highlighting the importance of monitoring the circulating coronaviruses. The use of sensitive molecular methods has contributed to the differential diagnosis of viruses circulating in humans. Our study aim was to investigate the molecular epidemiology of human CoV strains circulating in Arkansas, their genetic variability and their association with reported influenza-like symptoms. We analyzed 200 nasal swab samples, collected by the Arkansas Department of Health in 2010, for influenza diagnosis. All samples were from patients showing acute respiratory symptoms while testing negative for influenza. Samples were pre-screened, using a quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) multiprobe for coronavirus, and subjected to confirmatory pancoronavirus and/or strain-specific reverse transcriptase (RT)-PCR followed by sequence analysis. Seventy-nine samples (39.5%) were positive by qRTPCR and 35 samples (17.5%) were confirmed by conventional RT-PCR. Twenty-three of the confirmed samples (59%) were sequenced. The most frequent strain detected was HCoV-OC43-like followed by NL63-like; only one sample was positive for HCoV-229E and one for HCoV-HKU1. Feline-like CoV strains were detected in three samples, representing possible evidence of interspecies transmission or a new human strain. Seventeen percent of the coronavirus positive samples were also positive for other respiratory viruses, such as Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), Parainfluenza 2 and 3, and Rhinovirus. Thus, HCoV-OC43, NL63, HKU1 and new feline-like strains were circulating in Arkansas in 2010. HCoV was the sole respiratory virus detected in 16% of the patients who showed acute respiratory symptoms with negative diagnoses for influenza virus.