Learn more about the coronavirus
This virus causes respiratory diseases in humans and animals.
Published in: March 16, 2020  and updated in: September 28, 2020
The coronavirus outbreak has become a global health emergency. Here’s everything you need to know about the infection.



The coronavirus (CoV) is part of a large viral family mapped since the mid 1960s that causes respiratory diseases in humans and animals1. Infection by coronavirus typically causes mild to moderate respiratory illnesses, similar to a common cold1. However, some viruses can cause severe respiratory syndromes, such as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, commonly known by its acronym SARS. The first SARS cases related to coronavirus (SARS-CoV) were reported in China in 20021.

SARS-CoV quickly spread to more than a dozen countries across North America, South America, Europe and Asia, infecting more than 8,000 people and causing approximately 800 deaths, before the global SARS epidemic was controlled in 20031. No SARS case has been reported around the world since 20041.

Another strain of coronavirus was isolated in April 2012, different than the one responsible for the SARS-CoV outbreak in the early 2000s1. Until its initial discovery in Saudi Arabia – and later in other Middle Eastern countries, Europe and Africa –, this new strain was not known to cause diseases in human beings. Due to the geographical location of cases, the disease was coined Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and widely known around the world by its acronym MERS, and the new virus was named MERS-related coronavirus (MERSCoV)1.

There are currently confirmed cases of infection by the new coronavirus in 04 (four) continents: Asia, Europe, Africa and America (except in Oceania)1. Most cases were reported in the Asian continent, followed by Europe, Africa and, more recently, America1.

On December 31, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) office in China received information regarding cases of pneumonia of unknown cause2. A total of 44 cases of pneumonia of unknown cause were reported until January 3, 2020. All of these patients were treated under quarantine and 11 of them were more severe cases2.

The identification of a new coronavirus strain was announced on January 9 (2019-nCoV) in a patient hospitalized with pneumonia in Wuhan, China2. According to the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), a total of 614 cases were confirmed until January 22, all of which had traveled to the city of Wuhan – including 15 healthcare workers and 17 deaths2.

Reported cases are scattered across China (603), Hong Kong (1), Macao (2), Taiwan (1), Thailand (4), Japan (1), South Korea (1) and United States (1)². The new coronavirus strain (2019-nCoV) is a variation that had never been seen infecting humans before².


What is it? ³

It is a new virus that causes respiratory diseases in humans and animals. Infection by coronavirus typically causes mild to moderate respiratory illnesses, similar to a common cold. Some coronavirus strains may cause severe diseases with a significant impact on public health.



Authorities around the world are still investigating the transmission paths of the new coronavirus, but contamination by contact has been occurring continuously.

It is still unclear just how easily the new coronavirus spreads from person to person. Nonetheless, the coronavirus is usually transmitted via air or personal contact with contaminated bodily fluids, such as:

  • Saliva;

  • Sneezing;

  • Coughing;

  • Phlegm;

  • Close personal contact, such as touching or shaking hands;

  • Contact with contaminated objects or surfaces, followed by contact with mouth, nose or eyes.

The coronavirus is not as infectious as the flu virus, which means that there is a lower risk of global circulation. The virus can be incubated for two weeks until the first symptoms of the infection start to appear.



Clinical signs and symptoms are primarily respiratory, similarly to a common cold. There may also be infection of the lower respiratory tract, similarly to pneumonia.

Main symptoms:

  • Fever;

  • Coughing;

  • Shortness of breath.



Molecular biology exams are required to detect the virus. The recommended procedure for all suspected cases is to collect samples (e.g. sputum or tracheal aspirate or bronchoalveolar lavage) to diagnose infection by the new coronavirus.



There is no specific treatment for infections caused by the human coronavirus. For the new coronavirus, the recommended procedure is to rest and drink plenty of water, as well as other specific measures depending on the case, such as taking pain and fever medication (analgesics and antipyretics), using room humidifiers and taking hot baths to help relieve sore throat and coughing symptoms.

As soon as the first symptoms appear, it is crucial to immediately seek out medical care to confirm the diagnosis and start the treatment.



The Brazilian Department of Health has a list of recommended precautions to reduce the general risk of contracting or transmitting acute respiratory diseases, including the new coronavirus. They are:

  • Avoid close contact with people who have acute respiratory infections;

  • Frequently wash your hands, especially after coming into direct contact with sick people or the environment;

  • Use paper tissue to blow your nose;

  • Cover your nose and mouth before sneezing or coughing;

  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth;

  • Sanitize your hands after sneezing or coughing;

  • Do not share objects or personal use, such as cutlery, dishes, glasses or bottles;

  • Make sure rooms are well ventilated;

  • Avoid close contact with people that have the signs and symptoms of the disease;

  • Avoid close contact with sick farm animals or wildlife.



1 – Technical Report – New Coronavirus – Brazilian Department of Health Available at: http://portalarquivos2.saude.gov.br/images/pdf/2014/junho/10/Informe-Tecnico-para-Profissionais-da-Saude-sobre-MERS-CoV-09-06-2014.pdf. Last accessed on January 28, 2020.

2 – Warning: Infection by the New Coronavirus – Epidemiological Surveillance Center – State of São Paulo Available at: http://www.saude.sp.gov.br/resources/cve-centro-de-vigilancia-epidemiologica/areas-de-vigilancia/doencas-de-transmissao-respiratoria/coronavirus/coronavirus_alerta_01_23jan2020.pdf. Last accessed on January 28, 2020.

3 – New coronavirus: description, causes, symptoms, treatment, diagnosis and prevention – Brazilian Department of Health. Available at: http://www.saude.gov.br/saude-de-a-z/novocoronavirus. Last accessed on January 28, 2020.