According to the World Health Organization (WHO),1 Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of enveloped viruses which are known to cause illnesses ranging from the common cold, to the more severe illnesses such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 has been named SARS-CoV-2.2
Coronaviruses are zoonotic,3 meaning they are initially transmitted between animals and people, and these type of viruses are named for the crown-like spikes (or “coronas”) on their surface4 when viewed under an electron microscope. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s, and with the recent identification of the virus responsible for COVID-19, there are now seven known strains of human coronaviruses which can infect people.4
Most coronaviruses are not life threatening, and people around the world commonly get infected every year with one of the four known human strains of coronaviruses which cause the common cold.4 The COVID-19 strain is being monitored closely as a potentially more serious strain of human coronavirus similar to the strain identified as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV)5, which was responsible for an outbreak which started in Saudi Arabia in 2012, and the strain identified as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV)6, which was responsible for an outbreak which started in China in 2003.