The most closely related bat coronavirus and SARS-CoV diverged in 1986. A path of evolution of the SARS virus and keen relationship with bats have been proposed. The authors suggest that the coronaviruses have been coevolved with bats for a long time and the ancestors of SARS-CoV first infected the species of the genus Hipposideridae, subsequently spread to species of the Rhinolophidae and then to civets, and finally to humans.
Coronaviruses vary significantly in risk factor. Some can kill more than 30% of those infected (such as MERS-CoV), and some are relatively harmless, such as the common cold. Coronaviruses cause colds with major symptoms, such as fever, and a sore throat from swollen adenoids, occurring primarily in the winter and early spring seasons. Coronaviruses can cause pneumonia (either direct viral pneumonia or secondary bacterial pneumonia) and bronchitis (either direct viral bronchitis or secondary bacterial bronchitis). The human coronavirus discovered in 2003, SARS-CoV, which causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), has a unique pathogenesis because it causes both upper and lower respiratory tract infections.
Human coronaviruses were discovered in the 1960s. The earliest ones studied were from human patients with the common cold, which were later named human coronavirus 229E and human coronavirus OC43. Other human coronaviruses have since been identified, including SARS-CoV in 2003, HCoV NL63 in 2004, HKU1 in 2005, MERS-CoV in 2012, and SARS-CoV-2 in 2019. Most of these have involved serious respiratory tract infections.
In 2003, following the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) which had begun the prior year in Asia, and secondary cases elsewhere in the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release stating that a novel coronavirus identified by a number of laboratories was the causative agent for SARS. The virus was officially named the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). More than 8,000 people were infected, about ten percent of whom died.
In September 2012, a new type of coronavirus was identified, initially called Novel Coronavirus 2012, and now officially named Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The World Health Organization issued a global alert soon after. The WHO update on 28 September 2012 said the virus did not seem to pass easily from person to person. However, on 12 May 2013, a case of human-to-human transmission in France was confirmed by the French Ministry of Social Affairs and Health. In addition, cases of human-to-human transmission were reported by the Ministry of Health in Tunisia. Two confirmed cases involved people who seemed to have caught the disease from their late father, who became ill after a visit to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Despite this, it appears the virus had trouble spreading from human to human, as most individuals who are infected do not transmit the virus. By 30 October 2013, there were 124 cases and 52 deaths in Saudi Arabia.
After the Dutch Erasmus Medical Centre sequenced the virus, the virus was given a new name, Human Coronavirus—Erasmus Medical Centre (HCoV-EMC). The final name for the virus is Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). The only U.S. cases (both survived) were recorded in May 2014.
In May 2015, an outbreak of MERS-CoV occurred in the Republic of Korea, when a man who had traveled to the Middle East, visited four hospitals in the Seoul area to treat his illness. This caused one of the largest outbreaks of MERS-CoV outside the Middle East. As of December 2019, 2,468 cases of MERS-CoV infection had been confirmed by laboratory tests, 851 of which were fatal, a mortality rate of approximately 34.5%.
In December 2019, a pneumonia outbreak was reported in Wuhan, China. On 31 December 2019, the outbreak was traced to a novel strain of coronavirus, which was given the interim name 2019-nCoV by the World Health Organization (WHO), later renamed SARS-CoV-2 by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. Some researchers have suggested the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market may not be the original source of viral transmission to humans.
As of 9 April 2020, there have been at least 88,538 confirmed deaths and more than 1,484,811 confirmed cases in the coronavirus pneumonia pandemic. The Wuhan strain has been identified as a new strain of Betacoronavirus from group 2B with approximately 70% genetic similarity to the SARS-CoV. The virus has a 96% similarity to a bat coronavirus, so it is widely suspected to originate from bats as well. The pandemic has resulted in travel restrictions and nationwide lockdowns in several countries.