Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illness ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV). A novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans.  

The new coronavirus, 2019-nCOV or COVID-19, is a respiratory virus that spreads primarily from person to person through small droplets from the nose or mouth, which are expelled when a person with COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or speaks. These droplets are relatively heavy, do not travel far and quickly sink to the ground. People can catch COVID-19 if they breathe in these droplets from a person infected with the virus.

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  Detailed investigations found that SARS-CoV was transmitted from civet cats to humans and MERS-CoV from dromedary camels to humans. Several known coronaviruses are circulating in animals that have not yet infected humans. 

Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. 

Standard recommendations to prevent infection spread include regular hand washing, covering mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing, thoroughly cooking meat and eggs. Avoid close contact with anyone showing symptoms of respiratory illness such as coughing and sneezing.

What PAHO does

The organization supports countries in the surveillance, prevention, preparedness, and control of pandemic & epidemic-prone diseases through the development of evidence-based strategies to predict, prevent, detect, and respond to infectious hazards. It also ensures regional surveillance functions related to these hazards.

Main Lines of Action

  • Pandemic & epidemic-prone diseases: Influenza, MERS, hemorrhagic fevers and hantavirus, yellow fever & emerging arboviruses, plague, cholera & epidemic-prone diarrheal diseases, leptospirosis, meningococcal disease.
  • Expert networks and interventions for surveillance and response: epidemiology and modeling, laboratory, clinical management, and infection prevention & control.