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Background: The natural history and transmission patterns of endemic human coronaviruses are of increased interest following the emergence of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2). Methods: In rural Kenya 483 individuals from 47 households were followed for six months (2009-10) with nasopharyngeal swabs collected twice weekly regardless of symptoms. A total of 16,918 swabs were tested for human coronavirus (hCoV) OC43, NL63 and 229E and other respiratory viruses using polymerase chain reaction. Results: From 346 (71.6%) household members, 629 hCoV infection episodes were defined, with 36.3% being symptomatic: varying by hCoV type and decreasing with age. Symptomatic episodes (aHR=0.6 (95% CI:0.5-0.8) or those with elevated peak viral load (medium aHR=0.4 (0.3-0.6); high aHR=0.31 (0.2-0.4)) had longer viral shedding compared to their respective counterparts. Homologous reinfections were observed in 99 (19.9%) of 497 first infections. School-age children (55%) were the most common index cases with those having medium (aOR=5.3 (2.3 - 12.0)) or high (8.1 (2.9 - 22.5)) peak viral load most often generating secondary cases. Conclusion: Household coronavirus infection was common, frequently asymptomatic and mostly introduced by school-age children. Secondary transmission was influenced by viral load of index cases. Homologous-type reinfection was common. These data may be insightful for SARS-CoV-2.

Original publication




Journal article


Wellcome open research

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Epidemiology and Demography department, KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme, Kilifi, 80108, Kenya.