What Is The Coronavirus? Where Did It Come From?
The coronavirus outbreak has affected over 80,000 people worldwide, and more cases are expected. Officially named COVID-19, the virus originated in Wuhan, China and has since spread to 50 other countries.
According to the World Health Organization, coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that can cause mild, cold symptoms to more severe strains like Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). The current outbreak is a new strain never previously identified in humans.
The novel coronavirus causes cold-like symptoms of coughing, fever and shortness of breath. A large study in China found that 80% of the new coronavirus cases are mild, fooling some people into believing they just have a cold.
“The coronavirus, scientists working directly with it tell me, is fairly easy to kill on surfaces. The disinfectants/ sanitizers do work. The hard part is neutralizing it in people,” tweeted NBC Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel.
The coronavirus, scientists working directly with it tell me, is fairly easy to kill on surfaces. The disinfectants/ sanitizers do work. The hard part is neutralizing it in people.
— Richard Engel (@RichardEngel) February 28, 2020
Many coronaviruses are transmitted from animals to humans, but because the virus first appeared in December, scientists have not been able to confirm its exact point of origin yet.
Ian Jones, a professor of virology at the University of Reading in England, told NBC News that the virus’s make-up is similar to a coronavirus that often affects horseshoe bats.
However, bats are incapable of transmitting the disease directly to humans; there would need to be an intermediary animal. It is unclear what the intermediary animal in this outbreak was, though the majority of the first reported cases centered around a large seafood market.
“The closest bat virus that we’ve seen is not able to infect human cells, so there had to be some intermediate animal,” Carolyn Machamer, a professor of cell biology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine told NBC. “The bat virus can infect an intermediate animal, and during that replication, mutations arise that could promote infection in humans if they are in close contact.”
Such was the case of the 2002 SARS outbreak, in which evidence suggested bats transmitted the virus to civet cats who passed it on to humans. It is likely the MERS outbreak also involved bats who passed the virus onto camels.