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J Infect Dis. 2004 Feb 15;189(4):652-7. Epub 2004 Jan 28.

Frequent detection of human coronaviruses in clinical specimens from patients with respiratory tract infection by use of a novel real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction.

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Department of Virology, Division of Acute Medicine and Infectious Diseases, University Medical Center Utrecht, PO Box 85500, 3508 GA Utrecht, The Netherlands.


During the past years, human coronaviruses (HCoVs) have been increasingly identified as pathogens associated with more-severe respiratory tract infection (RTI). Diagnostic tests for HCoVs are not frequently used in the routine setting. It is likely that, as a result, the precise role that HCoVs play in RTIs is greatly underestimated. We describe a rapid, sensitive, and highly specific quantitative real-time reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) for the detection of HCoV that can easily be implemented in the routine diagnostic setting. HCoV was detected in 28 (11%) of the 261 clinical specimens obtained from patients presenting with symptoms of RTI ranging from common cold to severe pneumonia. Only 1 (0.4%) of the 243 control specimens obtained from patients without symptoms of RTI showed the presence of HCoV. We conclude that HCoVs can be frequently detected in patients presenting with RTI. Real-time RT-PCR provides a tool for large-scale epidemiological studies to further clarify the role that coronavirus infection plays in RTI in humans.

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