The 2019 Novel Coronavirus

Common human coronaviruses cause mild to moderate upper respiratory symptoms, including the common cold, while more severe types can cause pneumonia and death. The name for this kind of virus comes from the crownlike spikes it has on its surface because “corona” is Latin for “crown.”

This strain of the virus is called 2019-nCoV for now, which is short for “2019 novel coronavirus.” It’s only the third strain of coronavirus known to frequently cause severe symptoms in humans. The other two are MERS and SARS.

Coronaviruses originate in animals (such as camels, civets and bats) and are usually not transmissible to humans. But occasionally a coronavirus mutates and can pass from animals to humans and then from human to human, as was the case with the SARS epidemic in the early 2000s. SARS stands for “severe acute respiratory syndrome”.

Most, but not all, of the first known cases in December 2019 were traced to an animal market in the Chinese city of Wuhan and are believed to have come from contact with live animals that were infected.


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