Coronavirus yields its name from its crown-like structure of spikes, first identified in the 1960’s. Most forms of coronavirus yield mild to moderate cold-like symptoms, primarily affecting the upper respiratory system. These mild forms affect most people at some point during their lifetime with no long-term effects.

Forms of Coronavirus

There are also more serious forms of coronavirus which can cause much more severe symptoms. To understand the coronavirus better the CDC explains there are four main subgroups of the virus: alpha, beta, gamma, and delta. Alpha and beta are the most common, with the following four types being responsible for many colds worldwide:

  1. 229E (alpha coronavirus)
  2. NL63 (alpha coronavirus)
  3. OC43 (beta coronavirus)
  4. HKU1 (beta coronavirus)

There identified coronavirus that can create more severe symptoms have more common names we may know, including:

  1. MERS-CoV (beta coronavirus that causes MERS)
  2. SARS-CoV (beta coronavirus that causes SARS)

While not all coronavirus will mutate and lead to more serious infections like SARS, it is helpful to understand the symptoms and prognosis of each of these viral infections.

Common Coronavirus

The four most common forms of coronavirus lead to symptoms often referred to as the common cold. Mostly affecting the upper respiratory system, these symptoms last for a short period of time and include:

  • runny nose
  • headache
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • fever
  • a general feeling of being unwell

Some infections may also involve the lower respiratory system causing illness like bronchitis or pneumonia. There is no specific treatment, but most people will recover on their own. Symptoms can be eased with fever reducers like acetomenaphin, humidifiers, rest, and consuming extra fluids.

Severe Coronavirus

The terms SARS and MERS can be alarming. SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, represented a global epidemic scare that spread across more than a dozen countries in Europe, North America, and Asia in 2003. While considered a serious threat to public health, there is no current need to worry. The SARS outbreak has been considered contained, and there has not been a reported case anywhere in the world since 2004. Even the CDC web page has been archived.

MERS represents a more recent threat to public health. An acronym describing a Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome, MERS has spread to many other countries (including the United States) since discovery in 2012. MERS is marked by acute respiratory symptoms including fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Different from other types of coronavirus, MERS is also characterized by a high mortality rate — 3 or 4 of every ten cases.

The good news is that all non-middle eastern diagnoses of MERS have been linked to travel from the Arabian Peninsula. There is not currently a high risk associated with this virus domestically or with other foreign travel.

Prevention of Coronavirus

While there is no known vaccine to prevent a coronavirus infection, there are many steps you can take to help prevent yourself from catching colds this year. Coronavirus is typically transmitted through a cough or a sneeze and by close personal contact. Touching an infected object or encountering infected fecal matter and then touching your face can also transmit infection.

Avoid contagion with regular hand washing. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water, and always wash your hands before you touch your eyes, nose, and mouth. Avoid contact with people who are sick.

If you think you may have the coronavirus, try to avoid infecting others. Stay home if possible when you are sick. If travel is unavoidable, use tissues or a mask when sneezing or coughing and dispose of soiled material in trashcans. Use sanitizing disinfectants to wipe down surfaces.