Coronavirus, Types

Coronavirus, Types
Coronavirus, Types


Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, including types like the common cold. However, three new coronaviruses have emerged from animal reservoirs over the past two decades to cause serious and widespread illness and death.

There are hundreds of coronaviruses, most of which circulate among such animals as pigs, camels, bats, and cats. Sometimes those viruses jump to humans—called a spillover event—and can cause disease. Four of the seven known coronaviruses that sicken people cause only mild to moderate disease. Three can cause more serious, even fatal, diseases. SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV) emerged in November 2002 and caused severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). That virus disappeared by 2004. The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is caused by the MERS coronavirus (MERS-CoV). Transmitted from an animal reservoir in camels, MERS was identified in September 2012 and continues to cause sporadic and localized outbreaks. The third novel coronavirus to emerge in this century is called SARS-CoV-2. It causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), which emerged from China in December 2019 and was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020.

Building on previous research on SARS and MERS, NIAID scientists and grantees are well-positioned to rapidly develop COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics, and vaccines. These projects include conducting basic research to understand how the virus infects cells and causes disease, and what interventions can prevent and stop the spread of disease.

Human Coronavirus, Types

Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. There are four main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The seven coronaviruses that can infect people are:

Common human coronaviruses

1. 229E (alpha coronavirus)

2. NL63 (alpha coronavirus)

3. OC43 (beta coronavirus)

4. HKU1 (beta coronavirus)

Other human coronaviruses

5. MERS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, or MERS)

6. SARS-CoV (the beta coronavirus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS)

7. SARS-CoV-2 (the novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19)

People around the world commonly get infected with human coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1.

Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus. Three recent examples of this are 2019-nCoV, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV.