Right now it is very difficult to get through a single day without hearing or thinking about coronavirus. The term coronavirus describes a general category of viruses. There are hundreds of different coronaviruses, but it is thought that only seven currently affect humans. Scientists have assigned four of the most common of these with letters and numbers like 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1. But for common people, these viruses have no names and usually only cause mild flu or cold-like symptoms.

Since the early 2000s, three types of coronaviruses have been introduced that cause more serious illness in humans. These include SARS, MERS and now, COVID-19. At the end of 2019, this novel coronavirus was first recognized. Of the three more serious types of coronavirus, COVID-19 is the most virulent type. It quickly spread across the world, affecting practically every nation and millions of people.

Because COVID-19 is a novel virus, scientists and medical professionals knew little about it, and humans have no immunity at this point. The virus spreads quickly and has a high rate of morbidity compared to other viruses, causing concern and confusion for people around the world. It is for these reasons that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Medicare.gov are rushing to inform citizens in the United States about this virus, how to protect against it, and what health care coverage is available.

What started the coronavirus pandemic?

The seven types of coronaviruses that affect humans began in birds or mammals. These viruses cause disease in animals that are called zoonotic diseases and can be passed from the animal host into humans. Some examples of common zoonotic diseases are Lyme disease, where a microbe is transmitted from a mammal (deer) to a human through a tick, noroviruses from dogs, or toxoplasmosis from cats. These diseases can jump from humans through touch, eating undercooked meat, drinking unpasteurized milk, or water that is contaminated with a pathogen. A pathogen can be bacteria, parasites, fungi, or a virus, as in the case of COVID-19.

The origin of COVID-19 is still being investigated, but there is some research that points to the wildlife, or wet market in Wuhan, China. In markets like this, live animals are kept, sold, and slaughtered on site. Scientists have a theory that this novel coronavirus originated in bats, although they are not sure whether humans were directly infected by bats or if the pathogen was first transmitted into another mammal.  Some researchers believe that bats infected a mammal called a pangolin which in turn infected humans. In China, people purchase live pangolins in the wet markets for consumption at home. Because they are alive in the markets, animals affected by this coronavirus can spread it easily to anyone coming into contact with it.

Zoonotic diseases have always existed, from rabies and salmonella, to the more recent West Nile virus, swine and bird flu, and now COVID-19. So why has this virus created so much havoc around the world? It is a complex virus that attacks the lungs in many people who are at a higher risk. Seniors, people with risk factors like diabetes, heart or kidney disease, and those with asthma or COPD need to take extra precautions.

Regardless of how the coronavirus began, it has become a global pandemic affecting millions of people. Staying informed and understanding how to prevent exposure to the disease is important. For more up-to-date detailed information regarding COVID-19, visit the CDC website. If you are a Medicare beneficiary, you can get more information about the coronavirus and what your benefits cover at Medicare.gov if you require testing or treatment.

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