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A to Z: Coronavirus

May also be called: MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, 2019-nCoV, COVID-19

A coronavirus (kuh-RO-nuh-vy-rus) is a common virus that can cause illnesses of the upper respiratory tract.

More to Know

Viruses are germs that can make people and animals sick. Viruses cause colds, chickenpox, flu, hand, foot, and mouth disease, and many other diseases. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that can infect the respiratory tract and cause symptoms like a runny nose, cough, sore throat, and fever.

Seven coronaviruses can infect humans, including the viruses that cause Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Other coronaviruses can infect animals like cats, dogs, monkeys, and rodents.

Almost everyone gets infected with a coronavirus at some point. Usually, the symptoms are mild and last for just a few days. In rare cases, a coronavirus infection can lead to a more serious problem like pneumonia or MERS, a severe infection of the respiratory tract that hasn’t been found outside of the Arabian Peninsula. SARS is also serious but hasn’t been seen since 2004.

At the end of 2019, a new type of coronavirus called COVID-19 began to make people sick in China. This virus came from animals and moved to people, probably at a market selling live seafood and animals. It causes fever, cough, and trouble breathing. It can be more serious in some people, especially if they were already sick.

Doctors believe that coronaviruses spread from person to person through the air by sneezing or coughing, or by close contact, such as shaking hands. Coronavirus infections are most common in the fall and winter.

Treatment for most coronavirus infections involves easing symptoms until the infection runs its course. More serious infections may need treatment in a hospital or other care facility.

Keep in Mind

Chances are you’ve had a coronavirus infection in the past but thought it was a cold. If you have any concerns about a cough, fever, or other symptoms, call your doctor.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.