What is Coronavirus?
Coronaviruses are a type of virus that were named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. There are four main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.
Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The seven coronaviruses that can infect people are:
Common human coronaviruses
- 229E (alpha coronavirus)
- NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
- OC43 (beta coronavirus)
- HKU1 (beta coronavirus)
Other human coronaviruses
- MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Resiratory Syndrome, or MERS)
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is viral respiratory illness that is new to humans. It was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012 and has since spread to several other countries, including the United States. Most people infected with MERS-CoV developed severe respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Many of them have died.
- SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS)
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. The illness spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before the SARS global outbreak of 2003 was contained.Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world.
- 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV)
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is closely monitoring an outbreak of respiratory illness caused by a novel (new) coronavirus first identified in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China. Chinese authorities identified the new coronavirus, which has resulted in thousands of confirmed cases in China, including cases outside Wuhan City.
People around the world commonly get infected with human coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1.
Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus. Three recent examples of this are SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV.
SARS-CoV-2 is a Coronavirus, the family of viruses traditionally associated with the common mild cold. It is genetically most related to, yet distinct from, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) Coronaviruses. We are learning as it unfolds daily in front of our eyes:
On January 10th, sequencing data for the 2019-nCOV virus were released. The causative agent of the mystery pneumonia was identified as a novel coronavirus by deep sequencing and etiological investigations by at least 5 independent laboratories of China. The Wuhan seafood market pneumonia virus isolate Wuhan-Hu-1 complete genome is now deposited online in Genbank.
On January 12th, the World Health Organization temporarily named the new virus as 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). In a paper titled “Coronaviruses: genome structure, replication, and pathogenesis” the genetic details were shared:
“The genome of CoVs is a single-stranded positive-sense RNA (+ssRNA) (~30kb) with 5’-cap structure and 3’-poly-A tail.” and “The genome size of CoV (~30kb) is the largest among all RNA viruses, which is almost two times larger than that of the second largest RNA viruses. The maintenance of the giant genome size of CoVs might be related to special features of the CoV RTC, which contains several RNA processing enzymes such as the 3’-5’ exoribonuclease of nsp14. The 3’-5’ exoribonuclease is unique to CoVs among all RNA viruses, and proved to function as a proofreading part of the RTC [12-14]. Sequence analysis showed that the 2019-nCoV possesses a typical genome structure of coronavirus and belongs to the cluster of betacoronaviruses that includes Bat-SARS-like (SL)-ZC45, Bat-SL ZXC21, SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV. Based on the phylogenetic tree of CoVs, 2019-nCov is more closely related to bat-SL-CoV ZC45 and bat-SL-CoV ZXC21 and more distantly related to SARS-CoV1.”
On January 16th, a laboratory assay had been developed by researchers at the German Centre for Infection Research at the Charité university hospital in Berlin.
On January 24th, the clinical features of 41 ICU patients infected with 2019-nCoV in Wuhan China were published. The patients had pneumonia with abnormal findings on chest CT and a “cytokine storm” with higher plasma levels of IL2, IL7, IL10, GSCF, IP10, MCP1, MP1A and TNFα. These data are from just the patient in the ICU, obviously the majority of people infected are not in the ICU.
On January 25th, five PCR protocols and primers for diagnosis of the Wuhan City SARS-CoV-2 strains are available from the World Health Organization (WHO). Additional information on real time RT-PCR protocols for laboratories are available online from the CDC.
The rapidly generated SARS-CoV-2 sequence and diagnostic information are both now publicly available on Virological.org.
Genetic variation studies seem to suggest the main host reservoir in nature for 2019-nCoV likely is the bat. Possible recombination and transmission may have involved snake hosts based on genetic glycoprotein analyses.
The NIAID provided a balanced summary of the current state of affairs with regards to 2019-nCoV:
“The emergence of yet another outbreak of human disease caused by a pathogen from a viral family formerly thought to be relatively benign underscores the perpetual challenge of emerging infectious diseases and the importance of sustained preparedness2.”
For any concerns about your own symptoms, call your healthcare provider (UHS Advice Line for students at (510 643-7197). For more information on the University Health Services response, please refer to the UHS health advisory message.