History of Coronaviruses

On December 30, 2019, an ophthalmologist at Wuhan Central Hospital in the Hubei province of China messaged his fellow physicians, alerting them to the appearance of a concerning cluster of pneumonia cases. Thirty-nine days later, after becoming infected with the very virus he tried to warn his colleagues about, Dr. Li Wenliang was dead at thirty-three. By that time, the disease had already spread to dozens of countries.

Before the SARS outbreak in 2002, only two coronaviruses were known to cause disease in humans, but neither caused much more than the common cold. The SARS coronavirus, however, went on to kill about one in ten people it infected. A 10 percent mortality rate. A decade later, in 2012, MERS, another deadly coronavirus, emerged. Like SARS, MERS spread to infect thousands of people across dozens of countries, but that time, one in three died. More than a 30 percent mortality rate. Today, we’re fighting to protect ourselves from—and to defeat—the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Origins of Coronaviruses

Where Are These Emerging Infectious Diseases emerging from?

All human viral infections are believed to originate in animals. Many of the first cases of the SARS coronavirus, caused by SARS-CoV, were found in the same kind of place most of the first cases of our current pandemic of the COVID-19 coronavirus, caused by SARS-CoV-2, have been found: live animal “wet” markets in China.

Preventing Future Pandemics

To understand COVID-19 and other deadly viral outbreaks, we have to understand their history and evolution if we’ll ever have a chance at preventing future pandemics. We also have to look back and take lessons from the past. How did we successfully beat back SARS? Why is it more difficult with COVID-19? What do we have to do to slow the pandemic today before we even have a hope at a vaccine?

The information on this page has been compiled from Dr. Greger’s research. Sources for each video listed can be found by going to the video’s page and clicking on the Sources Cited tab. 

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