All of the different types of coronavirus look similar to each other and behave similarly in the body. This photo is an artistic rendering of the SARS-CoV-1 virus.

A coronavirus is a type of virus. While this kind of virus has gained attention due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the truth is that there are seven known types of coronavirus infections that can infect humans. Although COVID-19 is colloquially referred to as simply “coronavirus”, this is somewhat inaccurate since there is more than one kind of coronavirus. Coronavirus infections are more common than you might think, and in fact, it’s likely that you’ve been exposed to coronavirus infections in the past during a common cold or flu! 

Here are some of the most common coronaviruses that can affect people: 

  • SARS-CoV-2 (severe acute respiratory system related coronavirus 2) – This virus is now known commonly as COVID-19.
  • SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory system related coronavirus)- This virus is commonly known simply as SARS.
  • MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome related coronavirus)- More commonly called MERS.
  • Human coronavirus OC43 – This type is one of the coronaviruses that causes 10-15% of common cold cases, and some think that it caused the Russian Flu pandemic.
  • Human coronavirus HKU1 – The HKU1 virus may be responsible for the common cold, and some infections with this virus lead to pneumonia or bronchiolitis.
  • Human coronavirus 229E – This virus can also sometimes be responsible for the common cold. In children between ages 2.5 and 12, a previous infection with this kind of coronavirus could be detected in approximately 50-70% of children. 2
  • Human coronavirus NL63 – This virus tends to present more severe symptoms than others, and can cause a respiratory infection. It may also cause the common cold. 

 

Coronavirus Symptoms

The symptoms of each coronavirus can vary, but they share similarities. In this section, we’ll start by looking at the symptoms of COVID-19 and long-haul COVID, and then we’ll also look at the symptoms of some of the coronaviruses later. 

 

COVID-19

The symptoms of COVID-19 may include: 

  • Loss of taste and/or smell
  • Fever/chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headache or body aches 
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • General fatigue

 

Individuals who catch COVID-19 may or may not display symptoms, and in the case that the person does have symptoms, they may or may not have all (or even most) of the symptoms listed above. Long haul COVID (sometimes known simply as “long COVID) involves the symptoms that persist following a previous COVID-19 infection. The symptoms of long haul COVID can be debilitating for many people and may last for up to 1 year after the initial COVID infection, or even longer for some people. Symptoms of long haul COVID include: 

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Chronic cough
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Mobility issues
  • Chronic pain or discomfort (particularly in the chest, joints, and muscles and in the form of regular headaches)
  • Anxiety and/or depression, brain fog, insomnia, difficulties with concentration and memory, and and other similar psychological issues
  • Persistent lung problems
  • Long term loss of smell and/or taste
  • Hair loss
  • Skin rash
  • Inflammation of heart muscle
  • Kidney issues (3)

 

SARS-CoV

SARS is another commonly seen coronavirus. The symptoms of this virus are similar to those of the COVID-19 virus with some differences. This is a highly contagious disease that can cause heart failure, liver failure, and respiratory failure in severe cases, and can sometimes lead to pneumonia or breathing problems in people who have been previously infected.  

Below are the basic symptoms of SARS:

  • Fever of 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Headache and muscle aches
  • Diarrhea (not seen in all cases) (4)

 

MERS-CoV

The MERS coronavirus has a high mortality rate of 30-40% and is spread through close contact with an infected person. For survivors of MERS, long term complications include pneumonia and kidney failure or problems. Symptoms emerge between 2-14 days after exposure and initial infection. Below are the most frequently seen symptoms of the MERS-CoV virus: 

  • Fever
  • Persistent cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Diarrhea and/or nausea and vomiting (5)

 

Common Human Coronaviruses

The remaining four human coronaviruses, OC43, HKU1, NL63, and 229E all share symptoms that are nearly the same (with minor variations). The symptoms most commonly seen in infections of these viruses include: 

  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Fever and chills
  • Headache
  • General feelings of dis-ease
  • Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting in some cases

Following infection with these human coronaviruses, the patient may develop pneumonia, bronchitis, or another similar lower-respiratory tract illness. It’s not unusual for a person to contract at least one coronavirus infection in their lifetime, and most infections happen in the fall and winter months during cold and flu season. (6)

 

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Resources:

[1] CDC (2021). Human Coronavirus Types. Retrieved September 25, 2021 from https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/types.html 

[2] Bosis, Samantha; Esposito, Susanna; Principi, Nicola (2010). Effects of Coronavirus Infections in Children. Retrieved October 1, 2021 from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2957994/#R33 

[3] WebMD Medical Reference (2021). What is Long COVID (PASC)? Retrieved October 1, 2021 from: https://www.webmd.com/lung/what-is-long-covid-pasc#1 

[4] Mayo Clinic (n.d). Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) – Symptoms and causes. Retrieved October 1, 2021 from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/sars/symptoms-causes/syc-20351765 

[5] CDC (2019). MERS Symptoms and Complications. Retrieved October 1, 2021 from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/mers/about/symptoms.html 

[6] CDC (2020). Common Human Coronaviruses. Retrieved October 1, 2021 from: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/general-information.html