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The coronavirus' crown-like spikes give the virus family its name — here's what it looks like

Holly Secon , Business Insider US
 Jan 29, 2020, 12:08 PM
The crown shape of the coronavirus gives it its name.
  • A coronavirus outbreak that started in Wuhan, China, has killed more than 100 people and spread to at least 16 other countries.
  • The coronavirus family also includes SARS, pneumonia, and the common cold.
  • They're called coronaviruses because under a microscope, the viruses have crown-like spikes protruding from their surfaces.
  • While Google searches for "Corona beer virus" have spiked, there is no connection between the beverage and the virus.
  • For more stories, visit Business Insider South Africa. 

The coronavirus family is a big one - it includes the common cold, pneumonia, SARS, and the new coronavirus that's spreading in China.

The various strains can cause very different ailments, but they have one thing in common: an external structure that features little crown-like spikes.

That's what gives the family its name.

Such spikes affect the way that a virus binds onto a host cell and infects it.

Coronaviruses are common in many species of animals, such as camels, cattle, cats, and bats. On occasion, strains mutate and spread from animals to humans.

The coronavirus family

Chinese authorities identified the outbreak of a new form of coronavirus at the end of December. Its official name is 2019-nCoV, and some experts think it first jumped to people in a seafood market that sold live animals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The outbreak has spread to 16 other countries, claimed the lives of at least 100 people, and infected more than 4,600. It can spread from person to person.

SARS and MERS (both coronaviruses) also jumped from animals to people, then were able to spread through close human contact.

Scientists are still not sure why only certain coronaviruses are able to infect people.

Public-health experts are urging standard preventative measures for all travelers, such as frequent hand-washing and avoiding close contact with anyone who is sick.

No, coronaviruses are not related to beer

Google has seen a spike in searches for "Corona beer virus" as the outbreak has grown, but to state the obvious: Corona the beer and the coronavirus family are completely unrelated.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's depiction of the Wuhan coronavirus.
CDC

In Latin, corona means crown, and modern romance languages follow suit: In Spanish, corona means crown, and Corona beer originated in Mexico. In English, the anatomical term "corona" is used for body parts resembling a crown. The term can also refer to the outer part of the sun's plasma.

This isn't the first time a disease homonym has affected a well-known brand. According to the New York Times, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, sales of the diet candy Ayds dropped approximately 50%.

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