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What is the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)?

Compiled and reviewed by S. Temizel, MPH, specialist for hygiene and environmental medicine, Augsburg

This chapter summarises current findings about the origins of the virus. In addition, we will also inform you about past outbreaks of related viral strains and the different names used for the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2).

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What is the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)?

Certain coronaviruses are usually more at home in the animal kingdom. If these pathogens are transmitted to humans, it is called zoonosis. If they multiply within the human organism and are easily transmitted to other persons, they can be dangerous to the human population. Globalisation (global trade and travel), a high population density, climate change and illegal wild animal trade all make it very easy for zoonoses to spread globally. According to current findings, the coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) first appeared on a fish market in the city of Wuhan, Hubei province, Central China, at the end of 2019, and was possibly transmitted to humans by bats or raccoon dogs. Within only a few months, it had spread to all continents. It is still unclear, if the origin of SARS-CoV-2 can be determined conclusively.

Has there ever been a similar situation?

In 2002, the first SARS-CoV caused a global outbreak with severe infection by a coronavirus. The SARS acronym means “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” and describes the course the disease takes: High fever, chills and severe pneumonia with acute respiratory distress (difficulty breathing) and coughing. Presumably, SARS originated from bats. It caused more than 8,000 cases in 27 countries with more than 700 deaths total. In 2012, we again got news about a new coronavirus which was given the name MERS-CoV (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and was also causing severe respiratory diseases like its predecessor. The carriers in this case: Most likely dromedaries. 80% of the cases occurred in Saudi Arabia.

COVID / SARS / CoV – what is all of that?

Since it is a new pathogen and also a new disease, a new name had to be found first. Currently, the virus is called SARS-CoV-2 (also SARS Corona virus 2) since it is rather similar to the virus from 2002. This name replaces the initial working title 2019-nCoV. The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 was called COVID-19 (CORONA VIRUS DISEASE-2019).

Are there any other coronaviruses that could infect humans?

There are other, more harmless coronaviruses which can trigger a typical cold in humans and are the cause of up to a third of cases of the common cold in humans.

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