Background: Human enterovirus 71 (HEV71) is a common cause of severe outbreaks of hand-foot- and mouth disease, aseptic meningitis and encephalitis in Asian populations but has not caused such epidemics in all populations. Objectives: To analyze the frequency of HEV71 in the background childhood population in Finland by screening in stool and serum samples and by measuring neutralizing antibodies against HEV71 in serum and to compare the genetic relationship of virus strains detected in asymptomatic children and those causing severe illness in Finland to the strains found in other countries. Study design: 4185 stool samples and 5686 serum samples were collected and clinical symptoms recorded from children who were observed from birth. Additional stool samples were available from four children hospitalized due to EV71 infection. Samples were screened for the presence of RNA of human enteroviruses using RT-PCR and HEV71 amplicons were identified by sequencing. Phylogenetic analyses were carried out to study genetic relationships between different virus strains. Neutralizing antibodies against HEV71 were screened from 522 children. Results: A total of 0.3% of stool samples and two serum samples from healthy children were positive for HEV71 genome. 1.6% of the children had neutralizing antibodies against HEV71. Most infections were asymptomatic or mild in contrast to the clear symptoms in the children hospitalized due to HEV71. All viruses were C strains. Conclusions: HEV71 is circulating in Finland but it is rare. No clear difference was seen between strains circulating in the Finnish background population and those found in hospitalized patients or those causing severe outbreaks worldwide. © 2012 Elsevier B.V.
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