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  • Sophia DePaul, AIT

What Really is ‘Coronavirus’?

‘Coronavirus’ is a term used to refer to the new respiratory disease now spreading across the globe. However, ‘coronavirus’ is actually a family of viruses and is divided into four main subgroupings of different strains: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Both the 2019-nCoV coronavirus and the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV) are simply strains of human coronaviruses.

Both SARS and coronavirus have similar symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath, and fever. These are also symptoms of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (“MERS”), another example of a deadly strain of coronavirus. MERS is a strain of coronavirus in the Middle East that originated from camels and was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia. However, these coronaviruses are very different. In 2003, the SARS epidemic spread to 26 countries, causing over 8,000 reported cases. SARS also caused about 774 deaths between 2002-2003, with a fatality rate of about 9.6 percent. Many coronaviruses cause illness in animals that can spread to humans, and SARS originated from civet cats, an animal similar to a mongoose, in Southeast Asia. However, there has not been a reported case of SARS since 2004. 2019-nCoV, more commonly referred to as just ‘coronavirus,’ is a new respiratory virus of the Coronavirus family first identified in Wuhan, China. The fatality rate of this new 2019-nCoV strain of coronavirus is 2.1 percent, considerably less than SARS. Like SARS, there is no known cure for the new coronavirus, but supportive care can help those infected. In brief, ‘coronavirus’ is usually meant to mean the newest strain of coronavirus, 2019-nCoV. However, it is important to know that coronaviruses are an entire family of viruses that have caused world-wide illnesses throughout the 20th and 21st century-- such as SARS and MERS-- that are similar to the newest strain.

Works Cited

Fottrell, Quentin. "Home Personal Finance Coronavirus has killed more people than SARS, but the fatality rate is still far lower — here’s why that could change." Market Watch. 9 Feb. 2020. 30 Jan. 2020. <>.

"Frequently Asked Questions and Answers." Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 11 Feb. 2020. 30 Jan. 2020. <>.

"Human Coronavirus Types." Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 10 Jan. 2020. 30 Jan. 2020. <>.

"Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)." Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 2 Aug. 2020. 30 Jan. 2020. <>.

"SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)." World Health Organization. 2020. 31 Jan. 2020. <>.

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