General Article What to know about coronaviruses

Topic Selected: Global Health Book Volume: 419

Coronaviruses cause a range of illnesses, including COVID-19. They typically affect the respiratory tract, but their effects can extend well beyond the respiratory system.

Medically reviewed by Joseph Vinetz, MD — By Adam Felman

At the end of 2019, scientists identified a coronavirus outbreak in China. Experts named the newly identified virus severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and the illness that it causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19).

There are many types of coronavirus. Some cause mild illnesses, such as the common cold. Others can cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which can be life threatening.

Many coronaviruses are present in animals but do not affect humans. Sometimes, however, a virus mutates in a way that allows it to infect humans. Scientists call these human coronaviruses, or ‘HCoVs.’

This article looks at a few coronaviruses that can infect humans, the illnesses they cause, and how th...

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