Type: Viral

Geography: Worldwide

Cases Per Year: 13 million at time of publication (but the number of cases continues to rise significantly)

Fatality Rate: 0.1% to 5%

First Discovered: 2019 in Wuhan, China 

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 is the strain of coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), the respiratory illness responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic. It is the successor to SARS-CoV-1, the strain that caused the 2002-2004 SARS outbreak. The virus is believed to have zoonotic origins is its genetic makeup suggests it emerged from a bat-borne virus.

The virus primarily spreads between people through close contact and via respiratory droplets produced from coughs or sneezes. It also is transmitted via indirect contact with contaminated surfaces.

The peak viral load occurs approximately 4 days after infection, and the incubation period is 2 to 14 days, so infected people can spread the virus to others before they experience symptoms. Symptoms include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.

Older adults and people with severe underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk for developing more serious complications and death from COVID-19 illness.

Photo: SARS-CoV-2 emerging from cultured cells – Electron micrograph.