Health

coronavirus | Definition, Features, & Examples

Coronavirus, any virus belonging to the family Coronaviridae. Coronaviruses have enveloped virions (virus particles) that measure approximately 120 nm (1 nm = 10−9 metre) in diameter. Club-shaped glycoprotein spikes in the envelope give the viruses a crownlike, or coronal, appearance. The nucleocapsid, made up of a protein shell known as a capsid and containing the viral nucleic acids, is helical or tubular. The coronavirus genome consists of a single strand of positive-sense RNA (ribonucleic acid).

Coronavirus - Disinfection workers wearing masks spray anti-septic solution at the Incheon International Airport on January 27, 2020 in Incheon, South Korea. COVID-19 Epidemic pandemic

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Coronaviridae is generally considered to contain two genera, Coronavirus and Torovirus, which differ in nucleocapsid morphology, the former being helical and the latter being tubular. Coronaviruses are important agents of gastrointestinal disease in humans, poultry, and bovines. In humans, a species known as SARS coronavirus (or Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) causes a highly contagious respiratory disease that is characterized by symptoms of fever, cough, and muscle ache, often with progressive difficulty in breathing. The virus emerged in humans in 2002; it likely jumped to humans from an animal reservoir, believed to be horseshoe bats. The ability of SARS coronavirus to jump to humans undoubtedly required genetic changes in the virus. These changes are suspected to have occurred in the palm civet, since the SARS virus present in horseshoe bats is unable to infect humans directly (see SARS).

In 2012 another coronavirus capable of causing a severe acute respiratory illness later known as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) was discovered in humans. The first case was found in Saudi Arabia, and others were reported within the following year in France, Germany, Jordan, Qatar, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Kingdom. All confirmed cases were directly or indirectly linked to the Middle East. Of all confirmed cases documented by 2019, roughly one-third had ended in death. The novel MERS coronavirus was similar to other coronaviruses known to have originated in bats and was thought to be passed from bats to other animals before being transmitted to humans. Camels were identified as one possible reservoir for the MERS virus.

In late 2019 a virus apparently closely related to SARS coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China. The virus, later named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2), caused an illness known as COVID-19, which was similar to SARS and was being characterized primarily by fever and respiratory symptoms. The virus was likewise highly contagious. By early 2020 it had spread throughout regions of China and had reached the United States and Europe, having been carried by travelers from affected regions. In March the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a pandemic, and travel to, from, and within many countries was severely restricted in an effort to control its spread. In many areas, schools and many businesses closed, and stay-at-home guidelines were implemented, which strongly encouraged people not to leave their places of residence.

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The Editors of Encyclopaedia BritannicaThis article was most recently revised and updated byKara Rogers, Senior Editor.

  • ebolavirus

    virus: Annotated classification

    Family Coronaviridae Enveloped virions 120 nm in diameter with a helical nucleocapsid containing a single strand of positive-sense RNA. Club-shaped glycoprotein spikes in envelope give crownlike (coronal) appearance. Viruses of this family are important agents of respiratory and gastrointestinal disease in humans, poultry, and bovines. Family…

  • 2003 SARS epidemic in Asia

    SARS

    SARS is caused by a coronavirus, a type of virus usually associated with pneumonia and the common cold. The virus is named for the appearance in electron-microscope images of a halolike corona, or crown, around its surface. SARS coronavirus jumped to humans from an animal reservoir, believed to be…

  • MERS; coronavirus

    MERS

    >coronavirus known as MERS-CoV, which attacks the respiratory system. Symptoms of illness appear anytime from 2 to 14 days following infection. Cough, fever, and shortness of breath are the primary symptoms, but others such as diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and myalgia (muscle pain) can also occur.…

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