On 31 December 2019, China reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) about the numerous cases of pneumonia in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. This virus, as reported by the Chinese researchers, belongs to the family of Coronavirus, but it is somewhat different from its already existing types. The virus is known in the popular media as Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The cases of Coronavirus have now been confirmed in other countries also, including South Korea, Japan, Thailand, and the United States.
On 11th January 2020, China shared the genome information of the virus with the WHO and proposed it to Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) for other countries to evaluate and identify the virus and try to make suitable drugs, diagnostic kits, and vaccines against the same. The researchers from China have started doing an environmental evaluation of the wholesale seafood market of Wuhan. According to the preliminary epidemiological investigation performed on the patients, most of them had come in close contact with the animals and visited the seafood wholesale market, which has been closed since 1 January 2020. Although the research on its extent of spread, severity, and source is going on, there is a possibility of its human-to-human transmission.
An animal is most likely to be the primary source of transmission of Novel Coronavirus. There is an ongoing investigation of this virus by a team of WHO and the investigating health officials of China in Wuhan. The information on this mission is being shared by the Government of China.
But what is Coronavirus? Let us try to understand this virus, its already existing types, and the diseases it causes in humans.
What is Coronavirus?
Coronavirus is a large family of Viruses that mainly affects the respiratory tracts of birds and mammals including humans. The diseases caused by the Coronavirus in humans range from the mild common cold to lethal Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).
The Coronavirus was first located in the year 1937 in a bronchitis virus, which was present in the birds and was a potentially lethal virus. Human Coronavirus was first discovered in the 1960s in the nasal cavity of a patient who was suffering from a common cold. Scientists have found that Coronavirus can infect humans, rats, dogs, mice, pigs, turkeys, rats, cats, horses, and cattle. The name Coronavirus comes from a Latin word where Corona means ‘crown’ or ‘halo;’ based on the crown-like projections on the surface of the virus.
Types of Coronavirus
Seven major types of Coronavirus have been specified so far including the latest Novel Coronavirus.
- HKU1 (beta coronavirus)
- 229E (alpha coronavirus)
- OC43 (beta coronavirus)
- NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
- Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
Common Human Coronavirus
The types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 causes infection in humans and are therefore called Common Human Coronavirus. These viruses cause diseases in the upper respiratory tract like the common cold. The symptoms of the illness include running nose, fever, headache, sore throat, cough, etc. There is no cure available for the Common cold virus.
Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) is a severe disease caused by MERS Coronavirus (MERS-CoV). This virus was first reported in 2012 in Saudi Arabia (so the name ‘Middle East’) where it was passed on from dromedary camels, and since then, it has spread to other countries via animal-to-human and human-to-human transmission. The largest outbreak of this virus was witnessed in 2015 in South Korea.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, most commonly known as SARS is another severe contagious disease caused by the family of Coronavirus, i.e., SARS-CoV. This is also an animal virus, and the primary host is considered bat (not yet certain).
This syndrome is a fatal form of pneumonia. The outbreak of SARS was first reported in 2002, which led to the death of 800 people globally. The outbreak started in the Guangdong province of China and was spread to 37 countries.
This is the latest type of Coronavirus reported first by the Chinese researchers in Wuhan City, Hubei Province of China. This virus is temporarily named as 2019-nCoV.
Symptoms of this virus are stated as mainly fever and fatigue, accompanied by dry cough, with a few experiencing difficulties in breathing, which are similar to other respiratory diseases. With the “preliminary determination” of this virus by its genome taken from the infected patients, the Chinese researchers were able to identify this virus as a Novel Coronavirus. “Preliminary identification of a novel virus in such a short period of time is a notable achievement and demonstrates China’s increased capacity to manage new outbreaks.” a tweet posted by WHO after the reports of “Preliminary identification” were transferred to WHO by China.
Diseases Caused by Coronavirus
The family of Coronavirus is capable of causing the following diseases:
- Common cold (caused by 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 type)
- Pneumonia (caused by Novel Coronavirus and SARS-CoV)
- Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) (caused by SARS-CoV)
- The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) (caused by MERS-CoV)