Coronavirus

Definition

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses. Infection with these viruses generally causes mild to moderate respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold. Some coronaviruses cause severe illness that can lead to pneumonia, and even death.

Alternative Names

Coronavirus - SARS; Coronavirus - 2019-nCoV; Coronavirus - COVID-19; Coronavirus - Severe acute respiratory syndrome; Coronavirus - Middle East respiratory syndrome; Coronavirus - MERS

Causes

There are many different coronaviruses. They affect both humans and animals. Common human coronaviruses cause mild to moderate illnesses, such as the common cold.

Some animal coronaviruses evolve (mutate) and are passed from animals to humans. They may then spread through person-to-person contact. The coronaviruses that spread from animals to humans can sometimes cause more severe illness:

Many coronaviruses originate in bats, which can infect other animals. SARS-CoV spread from civet cats, while MERS-CoV spread from camels. The latest virus, SARS-CoV-2, is also suspected to originate from animals. It is from the same family of viruses as SARS-CoV, which is why they have similar names. There are many other coronaviruses circulating in animals, but they haven't spread to humans.

Once a person has been infected by a coronavirus, the infection can spread to a healthy person (person-to-person transmission). You can catch coronavirus infection when:

Symptoms

Human coronaviruses that cause the common cold spread from person-to-person. Symptoms develop in 2 to 14 days. These include:

Exposure to MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 can cause severe symptoms. These include:

Severe coronavirus infection may cause:

Symptoms may be severe in certain people:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider may take a sample of the following for laboratory testing:

Stool and urine samples may also be taken in some cases.

You may need further testing if your infection is severe. These tests may include:

Diagnostic tests may not be available for all kinds of coronavirus.

Treatment

At this time, there is no specific treatment for coronavirus infection except for SARS-CoV-2. For a coronavirus infection not due to SARS-CoV-2, medicines are given only to ease your symptoms. Experimental treatments are sometimes used in severe cases.

Mild coronavirus infections, such as the common cold, will go away in a few days with rest and self care at home.

If you are suspected to have a severe coronavirus infection and are treated in a hospital, you may:

Treatment for severe infections may include:

Treatment for COVID-19, the illness due to SARS-CoV-2, may involve additional antiviral medicines.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Common colds due to coronavirus usually resolve on their own. Severe coronavirus infections may require hospitalization and breathing support. Rarely, certain severe coronavirus infections may lead to death, especially in older people, children, or people with chronic conditions.

Possible Complications

Coronavirus infections may lead to bronchitis or pneumonia. Some severe forms may cause organ failure, and even death. Infection with SARS-CoV-2 may lead to long COVID in some people.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your provider if you have:

Prevention

Follow these steps to lower your risk of infection:

There are vaccines that can prevent severe disease with COVID-19. Contact your local health department to find out about availability in your area. Information about COVID-19 vaccines is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/index.html.

If you are travelling, talk to your provider about:

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. COVID-19: About COVID-19. www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/your-health/about-covid-19.html. Updated April 9, 2024. Accessed May 7, 2024.

Havers FP, Kirking H, Plumb ID. PRE-2019 coronaviruses. In: Goldman L, Cooney KA, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 27th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2024:chap 334.

Perlman S, McIntosh K. Coronaviruses, including severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 155.

World Health Organization website. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19). www.who.int/health-topics/coronavirus#tab=tab_1. Accessed January 30, 2024.


Review Date: 2/22/2023
Reviewed By: Frank D. Brodkey, MD, FCCM, Associate Professor, Section of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, Madison, WI.Internal review and update on 01/31/2024 by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. No warranty of any kind, either expressed or implied, is made as to the accuracy, reliability, timeliness, or correctness of any translations made by a third-party service of the information provided herein into any other language. © 1997- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
© 1997- adam.comAll rights reserved.