Coronavirus is a type of microbe that can cause potentially fatal diseases in birds and mammals, including humans. Airborne droplets of bodily fluids, typically originating from infected individuals through coughs and sneezes, are the primary cause of coronavirus infections in humans. Usually, the illness caused by this microbe is non-fatal, although it can be serious.
However, some rare strains of the infection, such as the Wuhan coronavirus which started in 2019 in China, can cause death in humans. Other potentially deadly strains of coronavirus include the one responsible for the Middle East Respiratory Symptom (MERS) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Symptom (SARS).
All of these diseases are contagious and can cause death in numerous patients.
A Brief Overview of the Virus
The coronavirus was first detected and described in the 60s and was originally named after a distinctive ‘crown’ made from sugar-based proteins which projects outward from the envelope which surrounds the microorganism. Of all the RNA-based viruses currently known, the longest genome encodes the coronavirus’ genetic structure. It comprises of a single strand of nucleic acid which can be more than 30,000 bases long.
The four known genera in the coronavirus family are known as the Alpha-, Beta-, Gamma-, and Delta-coronavirus. The first two – namely the Alpha- and the Beta-coronavirus, only affect mammals, including pigs, bats, cats, and humans. The Gamma-coronavirus largely infects birds, including poultry, and the last one, Delta-coronavirus, can infect humans, birds, as well as different types of mammals.
The Major Symptoms of a Coronavirus Infection
In different animals, coronavirus can cause varying symptoms. Some strains cause turkeys and pigs to succumb to diarrhea. However, in most cases, the symptoms of coronavirus infection are similar to that of a bad bout of the common flu. A sore throat, a runny nose, and other types of mild to moderate upper respiratory issues are the usual signs of such an infection.
Fatality is rare, but some strains of coronavirus can cause death in livestock as well as humans. The outbreak in Wuhan, China, is perhaps the biggest example of such a lethal outcome occurring due to coronavirus infection. Other examples of lethal manifestations of the coronavirus include the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
The Wuhan Outbreak
In 2019, an outbreak of coronavirus infections was reported in Wuhan, a city in China. This virus caused a respiratory illness in patients and was more contagious than previous iterations of similar infections. The number of infected individuals rose rapidly and within weeks, hundreds of people had died of the disease while other patients fought for their lives. From livestock to snakes, scientists have suggested many different potential causes for the Wuhan disease, although a final diagnosis is yet to be made.
Amid rapid evacuations, many people have been quarantined and a global response to the crisis is already underway. Since the initial outbreak began, the World Health Organization has attributed 2,500 cases of infection across 27 countries to the coronavirus. All of these together have resulted in more than 860 deaths, most of them in China. An effective treatment for the infection, and easily implementable prevention methods, are still in the process of being developed.