There are hundreds of coronaviruses, most of which circulate in animals. Only seven of these viruses infect humans and four of them cause symptoms of the common cold. But, three times in the last 20 years, a coronavirus has jumped from animals to humans to cause severe disease.
SARS, a beta coronavirus emerged in 2002 and was controlled mainly by aggressive public health measures. There have been no new cases since 2004. MERS emerged in 2012, still exists in camels, and can infect people who have close contact with them.
COVID-19, a new and sometimes deadly respiratory illness that is believed to have originated in a live animal market in China, has spread rapidly throughout that country and the world.
The new coronavirus was first detected in Wuhan, China in December 2019. Tens of thousands of people were infected in China, with the virus spreading easily from person-to-person in many parts of that country.
The novel coronavirus infections were at first associated with travel from Wuhan, but the virus has now established itself in 177 countries and territories around the world in a rapidly expanding pandemic. Health officials in the United States and around the world are working to contain the spread of the virus through public health measures such as social distancing, contact tracing, testing, quarantines and travel restrictions. Scientists are working to find medications to treat the disease and to develop a vaccine.
The World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak “a public health emergency of international concern” on January 30. On March 11, 2020 after sustained spread of the disease outside of China, the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 epidemic a pandemic. Public health measures like ones implemented in China and now around the world, will hopefully blunt the spread of the virus while treatments and a vaccine are developed to stop it.