Coronavirus is a type of virus that typically affects the respiratory tract of mammals, including humans. It is associated with the common cold, pneumonia, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and can also affect the stomach or belly.

Over the last 70 years, scientists have found that coronaviruses can infect mice, rats, dogs, cats, turkeys, horses, pigs, and cattle. Most recently, authorities identified a coronavirus outbreak in China that has now reached other countries.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses can cause flu-like symptoms and respiratory symptoms. Human coronaviruses (HCoV) were first identified in the 1960s in the noses of patients with the common cold. Two human coronaviruses are responsible for a large proportion of common colds OC43 and 229E.

Among humans, the infection most often occurs during the winter or colder months as well as early spring or bloom months. It is not uncommon for a person to become ill with a cold that is caused by a coronavirus and then catch it again about four months later.

This is because coronavirus antibodies do not last for a very long time. Also, the antibodies for one strain of coronavirus may be useless against other strains.

Symptoms

After being infected by the coronavirus infection, cold- or flu-like symptoms sets in from two to four days and they seem mild. However, symptoms vary from person to person, and some forms of the virus can be fatal.

Symptoms include:

  • sneezing
  • runny nose
  • fatigue
  • cough
  • fever, in rare cases
  • sore throat
  • aggravated asthma

There is no cure, so treatments include taking care of yourself and over-the-counter (OTC) medication.

You need to rest and do not try to overdo things. You also need to drink enough water. Avoid smoking and being in smoky areas.

Take acetaminophen, ibuprofen or naproxen to reduce pain and fever. Use a clean spray or cool mist vaporizer.

The virus responsible can be diagnosed by taking a sample of respiratory fluids, such as mucus from the nose, or blood.

Types

Different types of human coronaviruses vary in the severity of the illness they cause and how far they can spread. There are currently seven recognized types of coronavirus that can infect humans.

Common types include:

  • 229E (alpha coronavirus)
  • NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
  • OC43 (beta coronavirus)
  • HKU1 (beta coronavirus)

Rarer, more dangerous types include MERS-CoV, which causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS-CoV), the coronavirus responsible for SARS. In 2019, a dangerous new strain started circulating, but it does not yet have an official name. Health authorities are currently referring to it as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCov).

Transmission

Contagious diseases can spread through coughing without covering the mouth.  However, it is believed that viruses transmit using secreted fluid from the respiratory system.

Coronaviruses can spread in the following ways:

  • Coughing and sneezing without covering the mouth can disperse droplets into the air, spreading the virus.
  • Touching or shaking hands with a person that has the virus can pass the virus from one person to another.
  • Making contact with a surface or object that has the virus and then touching your nose, eyes, or mouth.
  • On rare occasions, a coronavirus may spread through contact with feces.

Young people are most likely to contract a coronavirus, and people can contract more than one infection throughout a lifetime. Most people will become infected with at least one coronavirus in their life.

To prevent transmission, be sure to stay at home and rest while experiencing symptoms and avoid close contact with other people. Covering the mouth and nose with a tissue or handkerchief while coughing or sneezing can also help prevent the spread of a coronavirus. Be sure to dispose of any used tissues and maintain hygiene around the home.