COVID-19: Why is this virus any different?

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COVID-19: Why is this virus any different?

Hundreds of coronaviruses exist, so why is COVID-19 ay different?

For one, COVID-19 is a new disease, caused by a new coronavirus not previously seen in humans. It is a highly contagious and potentially fatal respiratory illness.

Currently, there is no preventative vaccine or cure. To date, the directive has been to practice good hand hygiene and social distancing. Nearly all states, including Illinois, have issued “stay-at-home” orders to keep the virus from spreading.

COVID-19 is the abbreviation for “coronavirus disease 2019.” COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface, which are viewable under a microscope. Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s.

According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, most coronaviruses circulate among animals, including pigs, camels, bats, and cats. Those viruses sometimes infect humans.

However, only seven coronaviruses are known to cause human disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Four of them create only mild illness. Three others can have more serious outcomes in people and are as follows:

SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome)
Emerged in 2003 in southern China, originating in a small mammal. The illness spread globally, largely through air travel. More than 8,000 people were infected and 774 died. COVID-19 surpassed those numbers within two months. No cases of SARS have been reported in the world since 2004. This is attributed to aggressive containment efforts, and the fact that COVID-19 appears to transmit more easily than SARS, leading to greater case numbers.

MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome)
Emerged in 2012 in Saudi Arabia and spread to more than 25 other countries. MERS originated in camels. Through 2019, the World Health Organization confirmed 2,499 MERS cases and 861 deaths (or about 1 in 3). Only two confirmed cases of MERS have been reported in the US, both in 2014.

COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019)
Emerged in December 2019, reportedly in a live animal market in Wuhan, China.
Aggressive efforts are continuing around the world to contain its spread. To date, the disease has infected more than 2 million people worldwide, claiming more than 138,000 lives. Compared to other coronaviruses, people with COVID-19 appear to be transmitting the virus earlier in the course of the infection. This means they can spread the virus without knowing it, since they have no visible symptoms.

COVID-19 poses a serious public health risk. For more information about protecting you and your family from the disease, visit The website contains links to a free risk assessment tool, state and federal resources, and much more.