A to Z: Coronavirus

May also be called: MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV

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 pathogens, or germs, that can make people and animals sick. Viruses cause colds, chickenpox, flu, 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. There are six coronaviruses that 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 will be infected with a coronavirus at some point in their life. Usually, the symptoms are mild to moderate 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.

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 require treatment in a hospital or other care facility.

Keep in Mind

Chances are that you’ve had a coronavirus infection in the past but you just called it a cold. Most coronavirus infections are mild to moderate and don’t last long, but if you have any concerns about a cough, fever, or other symptoms call a doctor to be sure.

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

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