Coronaviruses: Get to know this family of viruses and related diseases

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been two other epidemics from viruses which belong to the same species. They were SARS and MERS.

The number of people infected with the new virus in China has reportedly reached 200 and four people have died.

Chinese health authorities have confirmed human-to-human transmission in the outbreak of a new coronavirus, raising the possibility that it could spread more quickly and widely. According to them, two people in Guangdong province in southern China caught the virus from family members. Some medical workers have also tested positive for the virus, as per media reports.

Meanwhile, the number of people infected with the new virus in China has reportedly reached 200 and four people have died. Most cases are from Wuhan, China where the respiratory illness first emerged last month. The outbreak has spread across the country, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. It has also spread to neighbouring countries like Japan, Thailand and South Korea where cases of the infected people have been identified.

Who is the culprit?

Officials in China and the World Health Organization (WHO) say that the infection is caused by a type of coronavirus. They have named it as novel coronavirus 2019 (nCoV-2019). It is also known as Wuhan coronavirus, Wuhan seafood market pneumonia virus, and Wuhan pneumonia. Early symptoms of the novel coronavirus include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, tightness of the chest and shortness of breath. In more severe cases, it can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death.

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Coronaviruses and related diseases

Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause diseases ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). Till now only six types of coronaviruses are known to infect people. The nCoV-2019 is the latest one and number seventh. Coronaviruses are zoonotic, that means they can be transmitted between animals and people. Following detailed investigations, it was found that SARS-CoV transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans.

In late 2002, SARS-CoV first infected people in southern China and spread to more than two dozen countries, killing nearly 800. However, no cases of SARS have been reported worldwide since 2004.

Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), also called camel flu, is a viral respiratory infection caused by the MERS-coronavirus (MERS-CoV). While it is believed to be transmitted from camels to humans, it is unclear how. As of April 4, 2017, nearly 2000 cases have been reported. About 36% of those who are diagnosed with the disease die from it. The infection was first identified in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and most cases have occurred in the Arabian Peninsula.

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