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Human Coronaviruses

First identified in the 1960s, coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface.

There are seven coronaviruses that can infect people. People around the world commonly get infected with these four human coronaviruses: 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1. They usually cause a mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illness, like the common cold that people catch every year.

Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick, and become a new human coronavirus. The three coronaviruses listed below are examples of this and are known to cause severe disease:


The novel coronavirus that causes coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19, an outbreak of pneumonia first identified in late December 2019 in China. More information about COVID-19 can be found on the CDC’s COVID-19 website:


This virus causes Middle East respiratory Syndrome (MERS) which was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. It has since caused illness in people from dozens of other countries. All cases to date have been linked to countries in or near the Arabian Peninsula.


    Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was first recognized in China in November 2002. It caused a worldwide outbreak in 2002-03 with 8,098 probable cases including 774 deaths. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS-CoV infection reported anywhere in the world.

    In Alaska, providers must immediately report suspected cases of any of these coronaviruses to the Section of Epidemiology at 907-269-8000 or 800-478-0084 (after hours).