Coronavirus infection

Dr. Ajay Mohan (AIIMS)MBBS

January 22, 2020

March 12, 2020

Coronavirus infection
Coronavirus infection

Coronaviruses belong to the Coronaviridae family of single-stranded, positive-strand RNA viruses. Corona is a Latin word that means halo or crown. Coronaviridae has crown-like projections on their surface, therefore viruses from this family got the name Coronavirus. 

RNA stands for ribonucleic acid which has only one strand of sugar-phosphate (compared with two strands in DNA in human cells). All viruses contain RNA in their cells.

The first strain of human Coronavirus (HCoV) was found in the 1960s in the noses of people with the common cold: OC43 and 229E are the two types of Coronaviruses responsible for the majority of cases of common colds.

Two strains of Coronavirus have caused two separate health scares in the 21st century already: the SARS-CoV which caused a severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2002-03 and the MERS-CoV which has claimed 858 lives between April 2012 and November 2019, according to World Health Organization (WHO) data.

There are various other types of Coronaviruses seen affecting humans. The latest among them, SARS-CoV-2, originated in China’s Wuhan seafood and wildlife market towards the end of 2019. The market was closed temporarily on 1 January, to avoid the spread of the mystery pneumonia-like virus. At last count, though, nearly 81,000 people had been infected by Sars-CoV-2 and over 3,100 people had died from COVID-19 infection in China alone.

As of 12 March 2020, 126,258 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection had been reported from 116 countries including Italy, Iran, France, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, Thailand, South Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and the US. In India, more than 73 people had been infected as of 12 March 2020 - most of these cases were confirmed in Kerala.

The Japanese cruise ship Diamond Princess gained notoriety during this period for quarantining more than 3,700 passengers and crew on board. Seven Coronavirus-linked deaths had been reported from the ship as of 12 March 2020.

Types of human coronavirus infection

So far, there have been seven coronaviruses detected in humans. The four most common types of coronaviruses which cause upper respiratory tract infection are:

  • 229E (alpha coronavirus)
  • NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
  • OC43 (beta coronavirus)
  • HKU1 (beta coronavirus)

The other two viruses MERS-CoV (beta coronavirus) and SARS-CoV (beta coronavirus) are the more severe forms of coronaviruses which can be fatal. The virus responsible for COVID-19 infection has been named SARS-CoV-2.

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Previously known as the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV), COVID-19 was first identified on 31 December 2019, in Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China.

Since the initial report of cases on 31 December 2019, and as of 12 March 2020, there were over one lakh confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection worldwide. This included 4,638 deaths globally, of which over 3,100 deaths were reported from China.

The symptoms of the disease are known to be:

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003. According to the WHO, the 2003 outbreak of SARS which started in Southern China and spread to 37 countries ended up making 8,098 people sick and claiming 774 lives.

The virus spread to various countries in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia before it was contained in 2003.

The symptoms of SARS are:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Body ache
  • Some patients may develop diarrhoea as well
  • After two to seven days, people affected with SARS may develop a dry cough.

MERS-CoV or Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS)

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), also known as camel flu, is a viral respiratory illness first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

The source of MERS-CoV is said to be an animal from the Arabian Peninsula. Some traces of MERS-CoV were seen in camels and it is believed to be one of the reasons for its spread.

The symptoms of MERS-CoV are:

This viral infection is life-threatening - three to four out of every 10 people infected with MERS-CoV die.

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Coronavirus infection symptoms

Human coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 are mostly responsible for causing mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses like the common cold. They can sometimes cause lower respiratory tract or chest infections, too, like bronchitis or pneumonia

The symptoms of coronavirus infection include: 

How does coronavirus infection spread?

Coronavirus can be transmitted through airborne droplets. If a person carrying the Coronavirus sneezes, their nasal mucosa acts as a carrier and transfers it to healthy individuals.

The virus only grows in the hair-like tissues of the respiratory system. The virus results in cell damage and inflammation, this triggers sneezing, obstructs the airway and raises the temperature of the mucosa.

Human Coronaviruses mostly spread through human contact. People can contract the infection by:

  • Inhaling the air infected by coughing and sneezing by a carrier of the infection.
  • Touching or shaking hands with the carrier.
  • Touching an object or surface that has the virus on it.
  • In rare cases, the virus can also spread through faecal contamination.

Coronavirus infection diagnosis

Coronavirus is diagnosed with the help of two different types of tests:

  • Molecular tests: Tests like Real-time reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR) are used to detect the viral RNA in the body.\
  • Serology tests: Tests like ELISA, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, are done to check the blood for antibodies against the virus.
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Coronavirus infection treatment

Though there is no specific treatment available for the human coronavirus, most people suffering from it recover on their own. Symptomatic relief can be given through:

  • Antipyretics like paracetamol for fever and body pain.
  • Drinking plenty of liquids to prevent dehydration.
  • Staying at home to rest, and secluding your belongings from the rest of the family members to prevent the spread of the infection.
  • Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics for your sore throat.

In case of severe viral infections, hospitalization may be required to prevent the condition from worsening and also to prevent the spread of infection to others.

Coronavirus infection prevention

Since there are no specific drugs or vaccination for human coronavirus infection, prevention is the only way to safeguard yourself. These small steps can help you avoid the infection:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are contaminated with the virus.
  • Wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds.
  • Alcohol-based hand sanitizers may be used if soap and water are not immediately available.
  • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • In the case of the COVID-19, the Indian government has issued advisories to avoid non-essential travel to countries where the infection is widespread.
  • In addition to this, there is also an appeal to quarantine yourself for 14 days if you observe any signs of infection in yourself - such as coughing. This will help to prevent the spread of infection to family members and colleagues.


  1. National institute of allergy and infectious disease[internet]. US Department of Health and Human Services; Coronaviruses
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention [internet], Atlanta (GA): US Department of Health and Human Services; Human Coronavirus Types
  3. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Coronavirus
  4. Science Direct (Elsevier) [Internet]; Coronaviridae
  5. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome)
  6. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)
  7. World Health Organization [Internet]. Geneva (SUI): World Health Organization; Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) – The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia