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Coronaviruses Overview

MERS coronovirus, 2012, colorized blue
Coronaviruses get their name from the crown-like prongs on their surfaces.
Credit: NIAID

Coronaviruses are common viruses that infect people and many other mammals throughout the year. Coronaviruses, named after the crown-like prongs on their surfaces, typically cause mild to moderate upper respiratory tract illnesses, such as the common cold.

Scientists identified the first human coronaviruses during the 1960s. Coronaviruses known to infect people are alpha coronaviruses 229E and NL63 and beta coronaviruses OC43, HKU1, and SARS-CoV.

A new beta coronavirus emerged in people in 2012. Known as the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, or MERS-CoV, it can cause serious disease and death.​

Last Updated October 28, 2013

Last Reviewed October 28, 2013