The History of Coronaviruses and Humanity

Several months into the COVID-19 pandemic, what we don’t know about COVID-19 still outweighs what we do know about the disease. Chinese researchers identified the causative virus as a novel coronavirus early in January 2020, making it the seventh known coronavirus to infect humans. Some coronaviruses circulate widely in humans, causing mild cold symptoms. Other coronaviruses have proven serious and deadly. How does the novel coronavirus fit into this picture?

WHAT IS A CORONAVIRUS?

The image of a coronavirus is easily recognizable due to its bumpy topped spikes. These spikes earned the family of viruses their name, which comes from the corona, or crown, that encircles the sun.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted from animals to humans. Coronaviruses have been found in birds and in numerous mammals, including bats, camels, cows, civet cats, and even domestic cats and dogs. In fact, researchers have identified several coronaviruses circulating in animal populations that haven’t made the leap to humans.