The emergence of a novel human Coronavirus infection late 2019 has changed life as we know it. Early 2020 has seen the world take serious measures to limit the spread of the virus and reduce the incidence of infection. Among recommendations from health authorities, there is great emphasis on increasing the frequency and quality of hand washing, wearing face masks and gloves, limiting travel and practicing social distancing, among other protective measures. But what exactly is the novel Coronavirus disease, dubbed COVID-19? What does the name stand for? What else is it called? And what kind of virus is the Coronavirus? Find out all of of this and more about COVID-19 and the Coronavirus pandemic in the article below.
What is COVID-19?
As mentioned earlier, COVID-19 stands for Corona Virus Disease (of) 2019. It is an infectious disease caused by a type of virus known as a Coronavirus. COVID-19 is caused by the Coronavirus strain currently called 2019-nCov or SARS-CoV-2. COVID-19 is primarily an upper respiratory tract infection, similar to the common cold, but it can advance to the lower respiratory tract and cause complications such as pneumonia. The type of disease it produces as well as the severity of infection vary from person to person and are often determined by the immune system response of the affected person. Existing underlying conditions, whether high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, cancer or other conditions, current treatment therapies such as cancer therapies and various lifestyle factors are presumed to impact COVID-19 outcomes.
What does COVID-19 stand for?
Notice the spelling: COVID-19 (all capitals). There is a reason for this spelling and that reason is an abbreviation. COVID-19 stands for ‘Corona Virus Disease 2019’. What this means is that the term COVID-19 actually denominates the disease, the 2019-2020 Coronavirus pandemic or the novel Coronavirus pandemic. The causative agent is a virus, a type of Coronavirus, called 2019-nCov which stands for ‘2019 novel Coronavirus’. The official name for the virus is SARS-CoV-2 which stands for ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2’. But in layman’s terms it’s called the ‘novel Coronavirus’ because it’s a new type of Coronavirus, or the ‘2019 Coronavirus’ after the year when the first cases occurred.
- COVID-19 stands for: Corona Virus Disease 2019
Alternative spelling: Covid-19
- 2019-nCov stands for: 2019 novel Coronavirus
- SARS-CoV-2 stands for: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2
SARS-CoV-2 is derived from SARS-CoV or SARS-CoV-1 which stand for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 1 which was the related virus that caused the 2002-2003 and subsequent 2004 SARS outbreaks.
What is the COVID-19 virus?
As pointed out earlier, COVID-19 is the name of the disease and means Coronavirus Disease of 2019. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a Coronavirus. The name ‘Coronavirus’ is derived from the appearance of virus particles: Coronaviruses have protein projections on their surface that are described as a sort of halo, or reminiscent of the Sun’s corona, hence the name ‘Corona-virus’. A Coronavirus is a virus, similar to Influenzavirus A, Influenzavirus B and Influenzavirus C that cause the flu and viral pneumonia, or like Rhinoviruses, Adenoviruses and other Coronaviruses that cause the common cold. That’s right: it’s not a new kind of virus because Coronaviruses already exist, but a new strain. The COVID-19 virus, called 2019-nCov or SARS-CoV-2, is a new strain of Coronavirus. Its particularity is its virulence, which means it has a high capacity for causing disease, as well as the ability to cause severe forms.
Are there other COVID virus strains?
Yes, there are other COVID viruses and many have several strains. There is a big group of viruses called Coronaviruses. It’s divided into 4 genera: Alphacoronaviruses, Betacoronaviruses, Gammacoronaviruses and Deltacoronaviruses, each with several lineages and strains. Some of these viruses have adapted to infect animals and some have adapted to infect humans. For the most part, human Coronaviruses are specific to humans, whereas animal Coronaviruses are specific to animals (some to mammals, some to birds). There are also Coronaviruses that can infect both humans and animals such as Betacoronavirus 1 HCoV-OC43 which can infect humans and cattle, but the strains are typically specific to either humans or various animal species.
Coronaviruses that infect humans are also called ‘human Coronaviruses’. The strain that causes COVID-19, 2019-nCov or SARS-CoV-2, is a human Coronavirus. And although it’s suspected to have a zoonotic origin, which means it is believed to have come from an animal, this theory hasn’t been proved yet. The suspected zoonotic origin of SARS-CoV-2 is based on previous research that has shown it is possible for Coronaviruses from animals to evolve to infect humans. For example, the human coronavirus HKU1, or HCoV-HKU1, was traced back to mice. See COVID-19 and the Snake, Pangolin and Bat: Who Did it?
In any case, human Coronaviruses have been here a long time. Coronaviruses account for an estimated of up to 15% of all common cold cases and usually produce mild to moderate forms of the disease. Human Coronaviruses OC43, HKU1, 229E and NL63 are known to cause mild forms of the common cold, but can also cause severe respiratory infections such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia. Severe forms of various respiratory infections owed to Coronaviruses are known to occur in risk categories such as people with lowered or compromised immune systems, babies and small children or the elderly.
But are there 18 other COVID viruses?
No, there aren’t 18 other COVID viruses. As mentioned above, the number 19 stands for the year 2019 which is when the first cases of the infection were diagnosed – COVID-19 literally means Corona Virus Disease (of) 2019. It is a preliminary name, one that’s easier to follow through by the general public. But there are many other human Coronaviruses aside from 2019-nCov that cause infections of the upper and even lower respiratory tract of varying severity.
Does COVID-19 affect dogs and other pets and animals?
No. The COVID-19 virus, aka 2019-nCov or SARS-CoV-2, in its current form, has the capacity to infect humans and only humans. COVID-19 doesn’t occur in dogs, cats or other pets and animals, although the strain is suspected to have evolved from a wild animal Coronavirus strain. But wherever it may have come from, whether a snake or a bat or some other wild animal as it’s suspected, it now has the capacity to only infect people. Reports of pets detected with Coronavirus are misleading because other animals have their own Coronaviruses too, but theirs are different from ours. Just like we don’t pass the common cold to our cats or dogs (15% of common colds are caused by human Coronaviruses), we’re likely not going to pass COVID-19 either. Similarly, we aren’t going to get the feline coronavirus FCoV from our cats because this strain is specifically adapt at infecting cats (FCoV causes feline enteritis and feline infectious peritonitis). Birds such as domestic chicken, turkey and migratory birds, but also other animals such as bats, mice, rabbits, pigs, cows, camels, ferrets, even beluga whales and many more animals have their own Coronaviruses.
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