Coronavirus History: How did coronavirus start?
Coronaviruses are a big family of different viruses. Some of them cause the common cold in people. Others infect animals, including bats, camels, and cattle. But how did SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19, come into being?
Here’s what we know about the virus that was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019 and has set off a global pandemic.
There have been numerous investigations to determine the origins of SARS-CoV-2 but none has been conclusive. The coronaviruses behind Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) developed from bats.
The virus first appeared on a small scale in November 2019 with the first large cluster appearing in Wuhan, China in December 2019. It was first thought SARS-CoV-2 made the jump to humans at one of Wuhan, China’s open-air “wet markets.” Later theories voiced concern that it may have originated as a biological weapon in a lab in China.
As COVID-19 spread both inside and outside China, it infected people who have had no direct contact with animals. That meant the virus is transmitted from one human to another. Its spread continued to the U.S. and around the globe, meaning that people are unwittingly catching and passing on the coronavirus. The worldwide transmission is what is now a pandemic declared on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization.
Currently, there are two hypotheses as to its origins: exposure to an infected animal or man-made in a laboratory. There is not enough evidence to support either argument.
The latest intelligence reports agree that the virus is not genetically engineered or developed as a biological weapon. They do say it is possible the version of a coronavirus was being studied with animals in a lab and exposure occurred there. Again, however, there is not enough evidence for a definitive conclusion.
Scientists first identified a human coronavirus in 1965. It caused a common cold. Later that decade, researchers found a group of similar human and animal viruses and named them after their crown-like appearance.
Seven coronaviruses can infect humans. The one that causes SARS emerged in southern China in 2002 and quickly spread to 28 other countries. More than 8,000 people were infected by July 2003, and 774 died. A small outbreak in 2004 involved only four more cases. This coronavirus causes fever, headache, and respiratory problems such as cough and shortness of breath.
MERS started in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Almost all of the nearly 2,500 cases have been in people who live in or travel to the Middle East. This coronavirus is less contagious than its SARS cousin but more deadly, killing 858 people. It has the same respiratory symptoms but can also cause kidney failure.