Coronavirus (COVID-19) origin: Cause and how it spreads (2023)

Many health experts believe that the new strain of coronavirus likely originated in bats or pangolins. The first transmission to humans was in Wuhan, China. Since then, the virus has mostly spread through person-to-person contact.

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause disease in both animals and humans. The severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus strain known as SARS-CoV is an example of a coronavirus. SARS spread rapidly in 2002–2003.

The new strain of coronavirus is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). The virus causes coronavirus disease 19 (COVID-19).

Stay informed with live updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and visit our coronavirus hub for more advice on prevention and treatment.

Around 80% of people with COVID-19 recover without specialist treatment. These people may experience mild, flu-like symptoms. However, 1 in 6 people may experience severe symptoms, such as trouble breathing.

The new coronavirus has spread rapidly in many parts of the world. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a pandemic. A pandemic occurs when a disease that people are not immune to spreads across large regions.

Read on to learn more about the suspected cause of coronavirus and how it spreads.

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(Video) Corona Virus (Covid 19). What it is? Origin, Spread, transmission, symptoms, precautions.

The recent outbreak began in Wuhan, a city in the Hubei province of China. Reports of the first COVID-19 cases started in December 2019.

Coronaviruses are common in certain species of animals, such as cattle and camels. Although the transmission of coronaviruses from animals to humans is rare, this new strain likely came from bats, though one study suggests pangolins may be the origin.

However, it remains unclear exactly how the virus first spread to humans.

Some reports trace the earliest cases back to a seafood and animal market in Wuhan. It may have been from here that SARS-CoV-2 started to spread to humans.

The CDC recommend that people wear cloth face masks in public places where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing. This will help slow the spread of the virus from people who do not know that they have contracted it, including those who are asymptomatic. People should wear cloth face masks while continuing to practice physical distancing. Instructions for making masks at home are available here. Note: It is critical that surgical masks and N95 respirators are reserved for healthcare workers.

SARS-CoV-2 spreads from person to person through close communities.

When people with COVID-19 breathe out or cough, they expel tiny droplets that contain the virus. These droplets can enter the mouth or nose of someone without the virus, causing an infection to occur.

The most common way that this illness spreads is through close contact with someone who has the infection. Close contact is within around 6 feet.

The disease is most contagious when a person’s symptoms are at their peak. However it is possible for someone without symptoms to spread the virus. A new study suggests that 10% of infections are from people exhibiting no symptoms.

Droplets containing the virus can also land on nearby surfaces or objects. Other people can pick up the virus by touching these surfaces or objects. Infection is likely if the person then touches their nose, eyes, or mouth.

It is important to note that COVID-19 is new, and research is still ongoing. There may also be other ways that the new coronavirus can spread.

(Video) A timeline of COVID-19's discovery and global spread

Most cases of COVID-19 are not serious. However, it can cause symptoms that become severe, leading to death in some cases.

The outbreak of COVID-19 has been sudden. This makes it difficult to estimate how often the disease becomes severe or the exact rate of mortality.

One report suggests that out of 1,099 people with confirmed cases in China, around 16% became severe. Another report estimates that about 3.6% of the confirmed cases in China led to death.

These figures are likely to change as the situation evolves. However, they suggest that COVID-19 is more deadly than influenza. For example, seasonal influenza typically leads to death in less than 0.1% of cases.

When testing becomes easier and more widespread, health experts will have a more accurate insight into the exact number of severe cases and deaths.

SARS is another type of coronavirus. It became a global pandemic in 2002–2003. Around 9.6% of SARS cases led to death. However, COVID-19 is more contagious, and it is already the cause of more deaths worldwide.

Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

  • a fever
  • breathlessness
  • a cough
  • a sore throat
  • a headache
  • muscle pain
  • chills
  • new loss of taste or smell

These symptoms are likely to occur 2–14 days after exposure to the virus.

(Video) How Coronavirus Became a Global Pandemic | WSJ

Some factors can affect the risk of coming into contact with the virus, while other factors can affect the risk of developing severe illness.

The risk of coming into contact with the virus depends on how far it has spread in a person’s local area.

The WHO state that the risk of developing COVID-19 is still low for most people. However, this is changing as the virus spreads — particularly in Europe and the United States.

The risk is higher for anyone in close contact with people who have COVID-19, such as healthcare workers. Viruses can also spread more in certain areas, such as highly populated cities.

Older adults are most at risk of severe illness, as are people with the following chronic health conditions:

  • serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • kidney disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • obesity, which occurs in people with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or higher
  • sickle cell disease
  • a weakened immune system from a solid organ transplant
  • type 2 diabetes

Finding effective ways to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2 remains a global challenge.

Many viruses are preventable through antiviral vaccinations. However, it takes time to develop and distribute safe and effective vaccines. A vaccine for COVID-19 is unlikely to be available any time soon.

Learn about some of the strategies for creating a coronavirus vaccine here.

(Video) The Story of Coronavirus (full version), English

The best way to prevent the virus from spreading is by avoiding close contact with people with COVID-19 and washing the hands regularly.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend washing the hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds per time. This is particularly important after being in public places.

When soap is not available, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching the face before washing the hands.

Governments, public bodies, and other organizations are also taking measures to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2. Look out for announcements of any new measures to stay up to date.

People with COVID-19 should stay at home and avoid contact with other people to prevent the illness from spreading. Keep surrounding surfaces as clean as possible and avoid sharing household items.

Always cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing. Face masks are generally necessary for people who have the illness. Anyone who has regular contact with people with COVID-19 should also wear a face mask.

Most people who develop COVID-19 only experience mild symptoms. These symptoms may build up slowly and should go away after a few days.

It is important for anyone who may have COVID-19 to contact their healthcare provider. For those with mild symptoms, call a doctor over the phone for medical advice.

It is essential to contact the emergency services if any of the following symptoms occur:

  • difficulty breathing
  • lasting chest pain or pressure
  • confusion
  • a bluish tint to the lips or face

Read the article in Spanish


What is the history and origin of COVID-19? ›

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.

What are the causes of COVID-19 pandemic? ›

COVID-19 is caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 can cause mild to severe respiratory illness, including death. The best preventive measures include getting vaccinated, wearing a mask during times of high transmission, staying 6 feet apart, washing hands often and avoiding sick people.

How many times can you get COVID? ›

Can you get Covid-19 twice? Yes, it is possible to get Covid-19 two, three or even more times. Covid reinfections have become more common because of the Omicron variant, and because immunity from previous infection and immunisation has reduced over time.

Where did beta virus come from? ›

First documented in South Africa in May 2020, the Beta variant was linked with increases in hospitalizations and deaths during that country's second wave.

When did coronavirus first appear in the world? ›

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) that causes COVID-19 first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in 2019 and was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). In December 2020, the US launched a national vaccination campaign.

What year did coronavirus start? ›

January 10, 2020

WHO announces that the outbreak in Wuhan, China is caused by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV).

What is the best medicine for Covid cough? ›

Use medications containing guaifenesin, such as Robitussin, Mucinex, and Vicks 44E. keeping you from getting rest. Coughing is useful because it brings up mucus from the lungs and helps prevent bacterial infections. People with asthma and other lung diseases need to cough.

When is COVID not contagious? ›

Everyone's immune response is different, and we can spread the virus for different amounts of time. Masking on days 6-10 helps reduce the risk that we will get others sick after recovering from COVID-19. Most people are no longer infectious after day 10.

What is COVID cough like? ›

A dry cough is one of the most common coronavirus symptoms, but some people may have a cough with phlegm (thick mucus). It can be difficult to control your cough but there are a few ways to help.

How long is immunity after COVID? ›

New evidence suggests that 'hybrid' immunity, the result of both vaccination and a bout of COVID-19, can provide partial protection against reinfection for at least eight months1.

Are you immune to COVID once you get it? ›

Reinfection with the virus that causes COVID-19 means a person was infected, recovered, and then later became infected again. After recovering from COVID-19, most individuals will have some protection from repeat infections. However, reinfections do occur after COVID-19.

Can dogs catch COVID? ›

Pets worldwide, including cats and dogs, have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, mostly after close contact with people with COVID-19. The risk of pets spreading COVID-19 to people is low.

How do virus variants start? ›

Viruses constantly change through mutation and sometimes these mutations result in a new variant of the virus. Some changes and mutations allow the virus to spread more easily or make it resistant to treatments or vaccines. As the virus spreads, it may change and become harder to stop.

Where did alpha variants come from? ›

Alpha first appeared in Great Britain in November 2020 and infections surged in December of that year. It soon surfaced around the world and became the dominant variant in the U.S., where the CDC classified it as a variant of concern. Then, Alpha faded away with the rise of the more aggressive Delta variant.

Where did coronavirus get its name from? ›

Like many other respiratory viruses, coronaviruses spread quickly through droplets that you project out of your mouth or nose when you breathe, cough, sneeze, or speak. The word corona means crown and refers to the appearance that coronaviruses get from the spike proteins sticking out of them.

Who declares COVID-19 a pandemic? ›

The World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020, has declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic (1).

When was the first COVID vaccine given? ›

Health-care worker Connor Paleski was vaccinated outside Hartford Hospital in Connecticut on Monday. Appeared in the December 15, 2020, print edition as 'Coronavirus Vaccinations Begin in U.S..'

What was the first coronavirus called? ›

COVID-19 was first reported in Wuhan, China, and subsequently spread worldwide. The coronavirus was officially named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses based on phylogenetic analysis.

What is the incubation period of Covid? ›

SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, most commonly has an incubation period of five days . In addition, about 97% of people who contract the virus will show symptoms within 11 days. That means most people who've been infected with the novel coronavirus will likely show symptoms within 11 days.

What are the new symptoms of Covid? ›

On June 30, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention added three symptoms to its COVID-19 list: Congestion/stuffy nose, nausea and diarrhea. Those three new conditions now join other symptoms identified by the CDC: Fever.

What is the timeline for monkeypox? ›

Symptoms typically appear within three weeks of exposure to the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Monkeypox lesions can appear anywhere on the body or remain isolated to the region where contact with an infected person occurred, Roberts previously told TODAY.

What are the negative effects of COVID-19? ›

Anxiety and depression may be masked as increased mood swings, irritability, withdrawal, and emotional dysregulation [2,19]. Physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and others that cannot be medically explained, including those of disordered eating habits and self-harm, are not uncommon.

What are long term effects of Covid? ›

Some people, especially those who had severe COVID-19, experience multiorgan effects or autoimmune conditions with symptoms lasting weeks, months, or even years after COVID-19 illness. Multi-organ effects can involve many body systems, including the heart, lung, kidney, skin, and brain.

How long does long COVID last? ›

Many people feel better in a few days or weeks and most will make a full recovery within 12 weeks. But for some people, symptoms can last longer.


1. How coronavirus (Covid-19) spread day by day
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2. How is COVID-19 Spread? What You Need To Know Now
3. Where did the coronavirus come from? | COVID-19 Special
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4. Understanding the Virus that Causes COVID-19, Animation
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5. Compelling new evidence tracks COVID's origin to Wuhan market
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6. Covid-19: Origins of an outbreak
(Knowable Magazine)
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