- Open Access
Human rhinoviruses and enteroviruses in influenza-like illness in Latin America
- Josefina Garcia1, 2Email author,
- Victoria Espejo1,
- Martha Nelson2,
- Merly Sovero1,
- Manuel V Villaran1,
- Jorge Gomez3,
- Melvin Barrantes4,
- Felix Sanchez5,
- Guillermo Comach6,
- Ana E Arango7,
- Nicolas Aguayo8,
- Ivette L de Rivera9,
- Wilson Chicaiza10,
- Mirna Jimenez11,
- Washington Aleman12,
- Francisco Rodriguez13,
- Marina S Gonzales14,
- Tadeusz J Kochel15 and
- Eric S Halsey1
© Garcia et al.; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. 2013
- Received: 22 March 2013
- Accepted: 31 July 2013
- Published: 11 October 2013
Human rhinoviruses (HRVs) belong to the Picornaviridae family with high similarity to human enteroviruses (HEVs). Limited data is available from Latin America regarding the clinical presentation and strains of these viruses in respiratory disease.
We collected nasopharyngeal swabs at clinics located in eight Latin American countries from 3,375 subjects aged 25 years or younger who presented with influenza-like illness.
Our subjects had a median age of 3 years and a 1.2:1.0 male:female ratio. HRV was identified in 16% and HEV was identified in 3%. HRVs accounted for a higher frequency of isolates in those of younger age, in particular children < 1 years old. HRV-C accounted for 38% of all HRVs detected. Phylogenetic analysis revealed a high proportion of recombinant strains between HRV-A/HRV-C and between HEV-A/HEV-B. In addition, both EV-D68 and EV-A71 were identified.
In Latin America as in other regions, HRVs and HEVs account for a substantial proportion of respiratory viruses identified in young people with ILI, a finding that provides additional support for the development of pharmaceuticals and vaccines targeting these pathogens.
- Influenza Virus
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus
- Respiratory Virus
- Nasopharyngeal Swab
- Human Rhinovirus
Acute respiratory infections (ARIs) are a leading cause of acute illness worldwide and remain the most important cause of pediatric mortality . Lower respiratory tract infections (LRTIs) are among the leading causes of hospitalization and death in children less than 5 years old worldwide, particularly in resource-poor countries .
Human rhinoviruses (HRVs) and enteroviruses (HEVs) belong to the Picornaviridae family and are prominent causes of respiratory disease . They share identical genomic organization and high sequence homology . Their genome is divided into three sections: a 5’untranslated region (5’UTR), an open reading frame of the polyprotein that codes for all four capsid proteins (VP1-4) and the non-structural genes, and a 3’untranslated region .
Although many reports link HRV primarily to illness in children [6, 7], disease in other populations such as military recruits  and nursing home residents have been reported . HRV infection often results in mild upper respiratory disease like the common cold, but it may also cause more serious disease by exacerbating asthma or other pre-existing respiratory disorders. In contrast, HEVs infect primarily the gastrointestinal tract and can spread to other sites, but some HEVs display specific tropism for the respiratory tract [10, 11].
There are more than 100 different serotypes of HRVs taxonomically grouped into two species HRV-A and HRV-B, according to the alignment of nucleotide fragments of the VP1 gene, the VP4/VP2 gene, and, more recently, the whole genome sequence [4, 12]. A different species, HRV-C, that shares 53 - 57% homology at the amino acid level with HRV-A and HRV-B, was identified in 2006 in patients with acute LRTIs in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe and North America [13–16]. Since its detection, HRV-C has been reported to be a prominent respiratory pathogen in children, causing up to 5% of LRTIs  and found in 42% of children with influenza-like infection (ILI) without identification of another pathogen by conventional means . HRV-C has also been implicated as a frequent cause of asthma exacerbation in children . Recent studies indicate that HRVs, as well as HEVs, show great genetic diversity by recombination [17, 19], as has been increasingly reported for the HRV-A/HRV-C recombinants .
There are few reports about HRVs and HEVs as causes of respiratory disease in Latin America [21–25], including one that describes HRV antibodies in Amazon tribes , but no large-scale genetic characterization of HRVs and HEVs has been performed in the region to date. In this study, we investigated the recent circulation of HRV and HEV with emphasis on recombinant strains in children and young adults in Latin America.
HRV and HEV in Central and South America
HRVs were identified significantly more frequently in children younger than 1 year (24%) compared to those between 1 and 5 years of age (15%) or older than five years (13%) (Figure 2, upper panel), a statistically significant finding (p <0.05 for both). However, using the two proportion z-test, we noted no difference in proportions of specific HRV species or HEVs per total ILI cases among different age groups. Nevertheless, the risk of detecting HRV-C in children younger than 5 years with ILI was 1.59 (C.I. 1.17-2.17; p <0.05) compared to older children and young adults (5–25 years).
Certain pre-existing respiratory conditions, such as rhinitis or chronic bronchitis, were found more often in those with HRV isolated (O.R. = 1.14 [95% C.I. 1.09 – 1.81]; ×2 = 7.82; p-value < 0.05). Furthermore, the presence of these pre-existing conditions specifically increased the risk for detection of HRV-C (O.R. = 1.71 [95% C.I. 1.18 – 2.45]; ×2 = 9.17; p < 0.05); asthma was a condition that doubled the risk of HRV-C detection (O.R. = 2.07 [95% C.I. 1.08 – 3.79]; ×2 = 6.19; p <0.05).
Clinical manifestations of HRV and HEV infections
Clinical manifestations of HRV and HEV
P value for:
C vs. other
C vs. A
C vs. B
C vs. HEV
HEV vs. other
(n = 2810)
(n = 490)
(n = 75)
(n = 278)
(n = 20)
Temporal distribution of HRV and HEV
Phylogenetic analyses of HRV and HEV in Latin America
The RDP, BOOTSCAN, and GENECONV algorithms available in the RDP were used to identify recombinant viruses within the coding and 5’UTR regions, separately. No recombination events were detected within the coding regions, but recombination was observed in the 5’UTR region for eight rhinoviruses (by at least two of the three methods, p < 0.05).
Recombination between the coding and 5’UTR regions was identified by inferring separate phylogenies for the coding and 5’UTR sequences and identifying major incongruencies in tree topology.
The lower right tree depicting the 5’UTR region shows that recombination events occur and their outcomes are circulating in this region. HRV-C frequently acquired the 5’UTR region of HRV-A by recombination processes, including multiple different clades, but this was not observed with HRV-B or any of the HEVs. Members of the HEV-A and HEV-B clades also seemed to undergo recombinant events at the 5’UTR region.
HRV-C clades 5’UTR phylogenetic analysis
% of Total HRV C samples
Genbank accession number
Country of collection
Year of collection
Huang et al. (2009) 
Kistler et al. (2007) 
Fuji et al. (2011) 
Lau et al. (2007) 
The frequency of HRV identified in our subjects with ILI is similar or greater to what has been found for influenza virus [30, 31], human metapneumovirus [32, 33], respiratory syncytial virus [30, 31], and adenovirus [31, 34] in the region, emphasizing the potential clinical and public health importance of this virus. Although differences in subject recruitment strategies prevent exact comparison between our studies and others, our HRV detection proportions are similar to pediatric respiratory disease studies from North America and Asia which had proportions that varied between 7.7% and 17.4% [7, 17, 35]. In South America, three separate studies from Brazil observed HRV detection proportions with a broader range, 15.9% to 46.7%, in children with ARI [22, 23, 25].
To further characterize the genetic diversity of these viruses, we sequenced all HRVs and HEVs identified. HRV-A and HRV-C species accounted for the majority of the HRV viruses (58% and 38%, respectively), and showed, in both cases, a great variety of serotypes, including more than 60 for HRV-A. The relative low percentage of HRV-B detected (4% of total HRVs) could relate to the fact that this virus has been shown to present with no fever  and our inclusion criteria required a fever ≥38°C, and thus, we could have underestimated the presence of this virus in the population. However, others have noted similar compositions of the three HRV species, with HRV-B accounting for only 4-11% of all HRVs recovered from subjects with respiratory complaints [7, 17, 22, 35]. Among HEVs, coxsackieviruses, both A and B, were the most predominant. We also identified low numbers of EV-D68, which has been associated with respiratory disease by others , although never in the countries of our study. In addition, we identified two cases of EV-A71, an agent traditionally associated with hand-foot-and-mouth disease, as well as severe neurological and cardiac complications [36, 37]. EV-A71 has also been infrequently linked with respiratory disease in Canada , Taiwan , and Australia , although never in Latin America. While the prior reports were associated with focal EV-A71 outbreaks, no outbreak in Peru was reported during our study period. Nevertheless, the fact our surveillance spanned multiple Latin American countries over a one-year period and the only two EV-A71 cases occurred within two weeks of each other in towns separated by a mere 25 kilometers suggests a possible unidentified localized outbreak. Other similarities between our EV-A71 respiratory cases and those of prior reports include age < 5 years and mild symptoms.
Our study shows that children younger than 1 year had a higher proportion of HRV infection than older children and young adults, which is consistent with previous studies [7, 19, 41]. Children 5 years or younger had a slightly higher risk of infection by HRV-C compared with those older than 5. However, no differences in the prevalence among age groups were detected for HEVs throughout our network.
A second virus was detected in approximately 11% of HRV-positive samples, much lower than a rate (37%) reported by others . We used two methods of detection, PCR for influenza viruses and cell culture for all other viruses (including influenza virus), perhaps allowing for higher identification proportions of influenza and most likely underestimating the number of secondary infections. However, we did not observe more severe symptoms in patients with another respiratory virus identified, a finding that is consistent with what has been reported previously .
Several studies have suggested differences in illness severity between HRV species, including a specific association of HRV-C with wheezing and asthma exacerbation [6, 7, 35]. In agreement with these studies, our results showed a higher frequency of dyspnea in subjects with HRV-C compared with other viruses; in addition, we noted an association of HRV-C detection with pre-existing respiratory diseases, in particular with asthma.
Our phylogenetic analyses showed the presence of almost all known serotypes of HRV-A and HRV-B, as well as the presence of HRV-C. HRV-C variants are not yet formally classified into types, although there have been some proposed typing methods . We show that recombinant events occur at the 5’UTR  consistent with others who reported picornaviruses having recombination breakpoints restricted to non-structural regions of their genome . We showed that the circulating HRV-C recombinants accounted for the majority of all HRV-C species, illustrating how much this virus varies over a very short period of time.
Limitations of our study include a lack of uniformity in samples collected among countries and the fact that we collected samples over a period of only one year, preventing definitive characterization of the seasonality of HRV and HEV in Latin America. Although an analysis spanning three to five years would have been ideal, we analyzed the temporal distribution of the three HRV species and HEVs by aggregating collection sites by their climatic and geographic similarities. As has been previously described in other continents [13, 43], HRVs and HEVs showed a similar “year-long” temporal distribution throughout Central and South America during the one-year period of collection. We did not detect any seasonality for specific HRV-A or HRV-B species, although HRV-C species seemed to possess opposite seasonal trends on either side of the equator. Others have noted seasonal differences among the individual HRV species, including high rates of HRV-A in April in the U.S.  and low rates in summer in China , high rates of HRV-B during winter in Australia  and China , and high rates of HRV-C in October in the U.S.  and winter in China ; like ours, these studies collected samples for only a one or two-year time span. Another important limitation of our study was that the identification of HRV and HEV did not unequivocally imply causality, a factor that would have been obviated with the inclusion of age-matched asymptomatic controls.
Although we are not the first to demonstrate a high prevalence of HRV in children with ILI, our results provide new perspectives into this virus’s global reach and additional insight into its clinical and phylogenetic characteristics in this underreported area of the world. While proven preventive and treatment strategies exist for other common respiratory viruses, including respiratory syncytial virus (pharmacotherapy, passive immunization), adenovirus (active immunization), and influenza virus (pharmacotherapy, active immunization), no HRV vaccine or antiviral currently exists [44, 45]. Our high prevalence of HRV and HEV identification in young Latin Americans indicates that pharmacotherapy against influenza virus or the common bacterial etiologies of respiratory disease should not be presumptive, but guided by diagnostic confirmation when available in this population. Despite the current limitations of rapid diagnosis and clinical management of HRV or HEV respiratory disease, we hope that surveillance such as ours will provide further impetus for the development of rapid diagnostic methods, vaccines, and antivirals, as well as further elucidation of what populations are most at risk and what types of HRV and HEV species are most worth targeting.
This protocol was approved as less than minimal risk research by the Naval Medical Research Center (NMRC), Silver Spring, Maryland. Institutional Review Board (IRB; Protocol NMRCD.2002.0019) in compliance with all applicable federal regulations governing the protection of human subjects. Authorization was given to perform the study using an information sheet approved and stamped by the IRB. As this was part of clinical care and routine surveillance benefiting the ministries of health, verbal consent was obtained from all participants. This method of consent was accepted by the NMRC IRB as well as by each of the institutions involved.
Specimen and data collection
From September 2010 to September 2011, in collaboration with eight Central and South American countries’ ILI passive surveillance networks (Nicaragua, El Salvador, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay and Argentina; Figure 1), nasopharyngeal swabs were collected from 3,375 subjects with ILI presenting to outpatient medical clinics in 21 cities, as described previously [46–49]. All participants were 25 years old or younger, had a fever (≥38°C), and either a cough or sore throat . Once collected, swabs were placed in viral transport media and stored at −80°C until they were transported on dry ice to the Naval Medical Research Unit No. 6 (NAMRU-6) facilities in Lima, Peru. Every site used an identical case report form. This form collected basic epidemiologic information and symptoms prior to presentation.
DNA extraction and PCR
We extracted and amplified viral RNA from 140 μl of the viral transport media using a viral RNA kit (QIAamp, Qiagen®). This was performed in 22 μl of reaction mixture consisting of 2.2 μl of nuclease-free water, 3 μl of MgSO4, (5.0 ×), 15 μl of 2× reaction mix (Super Script III One- Step RT-PCR System) with platinum (Taq High Fidelity kit), 0.6 μl 20 μM concentrations of the sense and antisense primers, 0.6 μl Enzyme Mix, and 8 μl of template. HRV and HEV detection was performed by semi-nested reverse transcription–PCR (RT-PCR) targeting the 5’UTR and a partial sequence of the VP4/VP2 genes including the nucleotides 165–1079 of the genomic RNA. We used P1-1 HRV (CAAGCACTTCTGTYWCCCC) and 9565_R HRV (GCATCNGGYARYTTCCACCACCAICC) . The amplification was carried out in a thermocycler 7700 (Applied Bioystems, Foster City, CA). Cycling conditions included a reverse transcription step at 50°C for 30 min and 95°C for 15 min followed by 45 PCR cycles: 94°C for 30 seconds; 55°C for 30 seconds; 72°C for 90 sec; and final incubation for 72°C for 10 min. The amplified products of 915 bp were analyzed by electrophoresis on an agarose 2% gel. PCR products were purified with Centri-Seps Columns (Princeton Separations). Purified products were directly used for sequencing of viral nucleic acids from clinical specimens.
Sequencing and phylogenetic analyses
The 5’UTR and VP4/VP2 coding region of all HRV and HEV positive samples obtained (n = 632) were sequenced and included in the following phylogenetic analyses. These regions were selected for sequencing because VP4/VP2 is the most commonly studied region of HRV and the 5’UTR regions have been shown to recombine frequently. For direct sequencing of viral nucleic acids from clinical specimens, gene fragments were amplified and sequenced with the use of a Big Dye terminator cycle sequencing kit (version 3.1, Applied Biosystems) and internal primers Generic F HRV (AGCCTGCGTGGCKGCC) and NCR2 HRV (ACTACTTTGGGTGTCCGTGTTTC) on a Genetic Analyser system (version 3130xL, Applied Biosystems).
Separate alignments of the coding (VP4/VP2; 464 nt) and non-coding (555 nt) regions’ sequences were constructed using MUSCLE v.3.8.31 . Maximum likelihood phylogenetic trees were inferred separately for the non-coding and coding regions using PhyML v.3.0 using a general-reversible substitution model with gamma-distributed among-site rate variability . Phylogenetic trees were visualized in FigTree v1.3.1 and colored by HRV species: HRV-A, HRV-B, HRV-C, and four clades of HEV (HEV-A, HEV-B, HEV-C, and HEV-D). Complete sequences (≈1,000 nt) were assembled, aligned, and edited using Sequencer (version 4.8 – Gene Codes Corporation, Ann Arbor, MI, USA) and BioEdit (version 7.0.0 -Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Dublin, Ireland) software. Phylogenetic trees were generated with CLUSTAL X version 2.0.1 and MEGA version 3.1 software . Fifty-eight HRV and 34 HEV sequences, representing all different clades found during the analysis were submitted to GenBank and their accession numbers are: JX129393 - JX129484. The RDP, BOOTSCAN, and GENECONV algorithms available in the Recombination Detection Program (RDP3, available at http://web.cbio.uct.ac.za/~darren/rdp.html) were used to identify recombinant viruses within the coding and 5’UTR regions, separately.
Detection of other respiratory viruses
All HRV- and HEV-positive samples underwent viral isolation by inoculation into four cell lines: MDCK, Vero76, VeroE6 and LLCMK2 cells (ATCC, Manassas, VA 20108), as previously reported . After ten days of culture, the cells were spotted onto microscope slides. Cell suspensions were dried and fixed in chilled acetone for 15 minutes. Immunofluorescence assay was performed using the Respiratory Virus Screening and Identification Kit (D3 DFA Respiratory Virus Diagnostic Hybrids; Athens, OH) for the identification of adenoviruses, influenza A and B viruses, parainfluenza viruses (types 1, 2, 3 and 4), and respiratory syncytial virus.
In addition, real time-PCR for influenza viruses was performed on all HRV- and HEV-positive samples as previously described . This was performed as part of the routine sample processing of the respiratory surveillance network at NAMRU-6.
Data was entered into a database using Microsoft Access and analyzed using Stata/SE 10.0 for Windows (StataCorp LP, College Station, TX). Two proportion z-tests were used to compare proportions; p-values ≤0.05 were considered statistically significant; 95% confidence intervals (C.I.) were calculated for each odd ratio (O.R.), and associations were assessed using Pearson’s chi-square (× 2 ) or Fisher’s tests.
Authors Tadeusz J. Kochel and Eric S. Halsey are military service members and Josefina Garcia, Manuel Villaran, and Victoria Espejo are employees of the U.S. Government. This work was prepared as part of their official duties. Title 17 U.S.C. § 105 provides that ‘Copyright protection under this title is not available for any work of the United States Government’. Title 17 U.S.C. § 101 defines a U.S. Government work as a work prepared by a military service members or employees of the U.S. Government as part of those person’s official duties.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Navy, Department of Defense, nor the U.S. Government.
This study was funded by the United States Department of Defense Global Emerging Infections Systems Research Program, WORK UNIT NUMBER: 847705.82000.25GB.B0016.
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