Coronavirus explainer: How the crown-wearing viruses infected the human race

Coronavirus explainer: How the crown-wearing viruses infected the human race

Coronaviruses are a diverse family of viruses, which can infect a large range of hosts. Due to their spike-like projections on their surface, they can resemble a crown. In Latin, corona means crown – hence their name.

There are human coronaviruses that cause mild respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold.

Researchers from Penn State University College of Medicine, USA, stated human coronavirus “have long been considered inconsequential pathogens”.

However, three have emerged in the 21st century that have caused alarming disease and death:

SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus) MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus) SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2)

What do they have in common?

All coronaviruses “are large, enveloped, positive strand RNA viruses” that can be divided into four groups:

Alpha Beta Delta Gamma

“Alpha and beta coronaviruses are known to infect humans,” stated the researchers.

The surface spike protein (S) glycoprotein is “critical” for binding to host cell receptors.

SARS-CoV (beta)

“Cases of severe atypical pneumonia were described in Guangdong Province, China” in 2002.

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Public health measures brought the SARS-CoV pandemic to an end, with 774 people having lost their lives.

MERS-CoV (beta)

In 2012, MERS-CoV emerged. Characterised by “sporadic zoonotic transmission and limited chains of human spread”.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of November 2019, MERS-CoV has caused 858 deaths, mostly in Saudi Arabia.

Those with MERS-CoV have “gastrointestinal symptoms” explained by the MERS-CoV (S) glycoprotein binding to dipeptidyl peptidase 4 (DPP4) – also present in the lower airways, as well as the gastrointestinal tract.

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