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SARS vs MERS vs Wuhan

Written by JuWon Park

Coronavirus is an umbrella term that describes viruses that is round and is surrounded by spiky proteins. They are a large family of viruses that cause various diseases, ranging from the common cold to SARS. This virus is more categorized for its appearance rather than its genetics. There are four major categories of the virus: alpha, beta, delta, and gamma. Only alpha and beta types are known to infect humans. The new virus’ proteins are said to be around 70-99% identical to its counterpart, the SARS virus (Saey, 2020).

The SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Sydrome) virus, which was identified in 2002 in the Guangdong province of southern China, is a coronavirus that resulted in 8,000 cases in 26 countries in 2003 (World Health Organization; Saey, 2020). SARS had a mortality rate of 10%, which claimed 774 people (Saey, 2020). SARS-CoV is transmitted person to person and shows influenza-like symptoms, but no specific symptom is specific to SARS. The epidemic ended in July 2003 and the overall risk of transmission to travelers now is very low (WHO).

The MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) virus, which was identified in 2012 in Saudi Arabia, is a coronavirus that resulted in about 2,500 cases since 2012 (WHO; Saey, 2020). MERS had a mortality rate of about 35%, which claimed 858 people (Saey, 2020). MERS-CoV is transmitted person to person and most infections have been during close contact, such as during unprotected care to a patient. MERS-CoV has a range of symptoms from no symptoms, to mild respiratory symptoms, to severe acute respiratory disease. Pneumonia and gastrointestinal symptoms have been reported. The mortality rate is assumed to be an overestimate of the true rate because mild cases of MERS were overlooked. Some studies have shown that direct or indirect contact with infected dromedary camels may have transmitted the disease from animals to people (WHO).

Like the MERS and SARs virus’, the 2019-CoV (or COVID-19) from Wuhan, China causes pneumonia, but do not have upper respiratory tract symptoms like sneezing or sore throats or intestinal symptoms like diarrhea unlike its counterparts (Huang et al., 2020).

The mortality rate of COVID-19 is difficult to determine at this point. For example, Iran has the highest mortality rate from the coronavirus outside China mostly because their reporting on cases of infections falls behind the reporting on deaths. Other explanations explain their higher reporting on the deaths to the infection of an older population with underlying disease and the lack of tradition to aggressively search for cases by knocking on doors (Luce, 2020). 

The virus is named “SARS-CoV-2” and the disease has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” or abbreviated as “COVID-19”. On January 31, 2020, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex M. Azar II declared a public health emergency in the US. The SARS-CoV-2 virus is a beta-coronavirus like the MERS and SARS, which have origins in the reservoirs of bats. At first, animal to person transmission was suspected in Wuhan before person to person transmission was reported in countries outside of Wuhan like the US.

The investigations to understand apparent community spread of COVID-19 is ongoing and symptoms range from mild to severe to fatal (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020).

Works Cited

2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) Situation Summary. (2020, February 29). Retrieved from

Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Huang, C., Wang, Y., Li, X., Ren, L., Zhao, J., Hu, Y., … Cao, B. (2020). Clinical features of patients infected with 2019 novel coronavirus in Wuhan, China. The Lancet, 395(10223), 497–506. doi: 10.1016/s0140-6736(20)30183-5

SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome). (2012, April 26). Retrieved from

Saey, T. H. (2020, February 4). How the new coronavirus stacks up against SARS and MERS. Retrieved from

Luce, D. D. (2020, February 28). Why is Iran’s reported mortality rate for coronavirus higher than in other countries? Retrieved from


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