What is Coronavirus?

COVID-19 (2019-Novel Coronavirus) Outbreak

This is the most recent coronavirus which was reported on January 9, 2020 by the World Health Organization and identified by Chinese authorities. The virus is associated with an outbreak of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially named it a pandemic.

Coronavirus is not new, but this strain is

You've likely heard the term Coronavirus recently when the new strain, 2019 Novel Coronavirus or COVID-19, was reported in China on January 9. Since then, the fear and confusion surrounding the outbreak, which has resulted in thousands of cases and hundreds of deaths in over 100 countries, has been running rampant.

Related: How is Coronavirus Transmitted?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses named for the crown-like spikes (corona=crown) on their surface. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s and there are at least 7 known coronaviruses that can infect people. 

229E and NL63 (alpha coronaviruses), as well as OC43 and HKU1 (beta coronaviruses), are human coronaviruses that people around the world often get infected with, and symptoms are usually mild. However, recently other types of coronaviruses are making people sicker. These usually first infect animals such as bats, cattle, cats, and camels, and then evolve to infect humans:

  • 2019: Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • 2012: MERS-CoV (beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome,(MERS)
  • 2002: SARS-CoV (beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, (SARS)

Two other Coronaviruses have occurred in recent years

MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus): MERS-Co was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It has since caused illness in people from dozens of other countries. All cases to date have been linked to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula. CDC continues to closely monitor MERS globally and work with partners to better understand the risks of this virus, including the source, how it spreads, and how infections might be prevented.

MERS should not be confused with "MRSA". MRSA is a skin infection and stands for "Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus". MERS and MRSA are very different diseases, MERS is a virus infection usually starting as pneumonia in the lung, and MRSA is a bacterial infection, usually starting in the skin.

SARS-CoV (Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus): SARS-CoV was first recognized in China in November 2002. It caused a worldwide outbreak in 2002-2003 with 8,098 probable cases including 774 deaths. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS-CoV infection reported anywhere in the world.

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