9th April 2020
COVID-19 or "Coronavirus disease 2019" is caused by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2.
SARS-CoV-2 is the RNA virus responsible for COVID-19 and is part of a family of coronaviruses called the Coronaviridae.
The family of coronaviruses includes the common cold, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and other forms of SARS.
As such, there have been other instances of coronaviruses throughout recent history.
A previous outbreak of SARS-CoV was initially reported in the Guangdong Province in China in 2003 saw over 8 000 cases and 774 deaths.
Originating in Saudi Arabia, the MERS outbreak reached over 2 400 cases and 858 deaths.
All three outbreaks have been thought of as "spillover events" which occur when a "reservoir population" infected with a specific pathogen comes into contact with a new host population.
SARS-CoV was traced back to bats as the reservoir population, MERS from dromedary camels and so far bats and trafficked pangolins have been suspected as the reservoir population for SARS-CoV-2.
In terms of transmission, SARS-CoV had spread to 29 countries, MERS to 27 countries and as of April 8, 2020, SARS-CoV-2 has spread to 209 countries.
No vaccines or specific treatments have been developed for these coronaviruses, however, both SARS-CoV and MERS were contained through the use of syndromic surveillance, prompt isolation of patients, strict enforcement of quarantine of all contacts, and in some areas top-down enforcement of community quarantine.
Similar approaches have been taken for SARS-CoV-2 and have proven to be effective in countries such as China.