BACKGROUND: Four human coronaviruses are currently known to infect the respiratory tract: human coronaviruses OC43 (HCoV-OC43) and 229E (HCoV-229E), SARS associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) and the recently identified human coronavirus NL63 (HCoV-NL63). In this study we explored the incidence of HCoV-NL63 infection in children diagnosed with respiratory tract infections in Belgium. METHODS: Samples from children hospitalized with respiratory diseases during the winter seasons of 2003 and 2004 were evaluated for the presence of HCoV-NL63 using a optimized pancoronavirus RT-PCR assay. RESULTS: Seven HCoV-NL63 positive samples were identified, six were collected during January/February 2003 and one at the end of February 2004. CONCLUSIONS: Our results support the notation that HCoV-NL63 can cause serious respiratory symptoms in children. Sequence analysis of the S gene showed that our isolates could be classified into two subtypes corresponding to the two prototype HCoV-NL63 sequences isolated in The Netherlands in 1988 and 2003, indicating that these two subtypes may currently be cocirculating.