The recent spread of COVID-19 is not the first time we’ve experienced an outbreak of such a disease, but it does seem to be getting a lot of attention. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), we are now seeing reports of what’s actually the third type of well-known coronavirus. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was first reported in 2003, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) was first reported in 2012.
So what do these different viruses have in common, and is there really more of a threat with the current coronavirus compared to others like SARS and MERS? Let’s see how they compare.
The CDC describes SARS as a viral respiratory illness that’s caused by a coronavirus. It was first reported in Asia during February of 2003, and it then spread to over 20 countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia before it was contained. Since 2004, there has not been a reported infection of SARS.
SARS Symptoms and Spreading
The symptoms of SARS usually presented with a high fever (greater that 100.4° F), headache, body aches and overall discomfort, mild respiratory symptoms and, in some cases, diarrhea and a dry cough. The CDC reports that most SARS patients also developed pneumonia.
Like the current strain of coronavirus, it’s thought that SARS spread through close person-to-person contact, mainly through direct contact — like hugging, kissing or sharing eating and drinking utensils. The CDC also defines “close contact” as talking to someone within three feet or touching someone directly, as opposed to being across the room or just walking by.
First reported in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, MERS is currently thought to be more deadly than both SARS and the current strain of coronavirus. The CDC reports that “three or four out of every 10 patients reported with MERS have died.”
They also report that MERS likely came from an animal source in the Arabian Peninsula. In May 2014, the only two patients to ever test positive for MERS were identified after traveling to Saudi Arabia.
MERS Symptoms and Spreading
Those with confirmed cases of MERS usually reported having a fever, cough and shortness of breath. Some also had diarrhea and nausea. While most who died from this disease had a pre-existing medical condition or another not-yet-discovered medical condition, some had more severe complications brought on by MERS, such as pneumonia and kidney failure. “The symptoms of MERS start to appear about five or six days after a person is exposed,” the CDC explains, “but can range from two to 14 days.”
MERS, like SARS and the current strain of coronavirus, spread from person-to-person contact. Like other coronaviruses, MERS likely spreads from an infected person’s respiratory secretions, such as through coughing.
We know that the new strain of coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China in late 2019. Like other coronavirus strains, it’s believed this strain originally came from an animal. Research has shown, however, that it can now be spread person-to-person. This can be through hugging, kissing, coughing, etc., usually when an infected person is showing symptoms, but it’s possible that the virus could be spread before someone infected has symptoms.
Coronavirus moves from person-to-person through respiratory droplets that enter the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Once airborne, these droplets then enter other people within up to six feet of each other via their mouth or nose.
The symptoms of coronavirus are similar to those described for MERS and SARS, usually including a fever, cough and shortness of breath. It can also sometimes lead to pneumonia and bronchitis.
The CDC shared that just over 8,000 people globally fell ill with SARS from November 2002 to July 2003 and in the United States, of the eight confirmed cases, there were no SARS-related deaths. That is compared to the two United States patients who tested positive for MERS in May 2014. Across the globe there have been 2,494 confirmed cases of MERS and 858 associated deaths since 2012, according to WHO.
If we look at these stats compared to our current situation, WHO also reports that there have been over 125,000 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus disease as of March 12, 2020. Over 12,000 of those cases are in the United States and 36 here have resulted in death so far. These numbers are expected to rise.
If you’re wondering how to best protect yourself and your family against catching or spreading the current coronavirus, AdventHealth has expert answers to frequently asked questions about the virus, available on our Coronavirus Resource Hub.