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Coronaviruses: SARS, MERS and Covid19


Coronaviruses (CoV) are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses 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 (SARS-CoV-2) is a new strain that has not been previously identified in humans. 

Coronaviruses are zoonotic, meaning they are transmitted between animals and people.  De-tailed 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 respir-atory 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.

A novel coronavirus is a new strain of coronavirus that has not been previously identified in humans.  The new, or “novel” coronavirus, now called SARS-CoV-2, had not been detected pre-vious to the outbreak reported in Wuhan, China in December 2019. SARS-CoV-2 is from the same family of viruses as the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV) but it is not the same virus. The related disease is named Covid19. As with other respiratory illnesses, infection with SARS-CoV-2 can cause mild symptoms including a runny nose, sore throat, cough, and fe-ver.  It can be more severe for some persons and can lead to pneumonia or breathing difficul-ties.  More rarely, the disease can be fatal. Older people, and people with pre-existing medical conditions (such as, diabetes and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming se-verely ill with the virus.

First Data on Stability and resistance of SARS coronavirus by WHO members

The information below provides the first compilation of data on resistance of the SARS Corona-virus against environmental factors and disinfectants. This information has been provided by Members of the WHO multi-center collaborative network on SARS diagnosis. The major conclu-sions from these studies are:

Virus survival in stool and urine
Virus is stable in faeces (and urine) at room temperature for at least 1-2 days. Virus is more sta-ble (up to 4 days) in stool from diarrhea patients (which has higher pH than normal stool).

Virus loses infectivity after exposure to different commonly used disinfectants and fixatives.

Antimicrobial Agent Concentration Coronavirus tested Reference*
Ethanol 70% HCoV-229E, MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV, TGEV [1, 3, 4]
Sodium hypochlorite 0.1-0.5%
Povidone-iodine 10% (1% iodine) HCoV-229E [3]
Glutaraldehyde 2% HCoV-229E [3]
Isopropanol 50% MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV [4]
Benzalkonium chloride 0.05% MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV [4]
Sodium chloride 0.23% MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV [4]
Formaldehyde 0.7% MHV-2, MHV-N, CCV [4]

Table 3: Antimicrobial agents effective against different coronaviruses: human coronavirus 229E (HCoV-229E), mouse hepatitis virus (MHV-2 and MHV-N), canine coronavirus (CCV), transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGEV), and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV)


1. Hulkower RL, Casanova LM, Rutala WA, Weber DJ, Sobsey MD. Inactivation of surrogate coronaviruses on hard surfaces by health care germicides. American journal of infection control. 2011;39(5):401-7.
2. Lai MYY, Cheng PKC, Lim WWL. Survival of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2005;41(7):e67-e71.
3. Sattar SA, Springthorpe VS, Karim Y, Loro P. Chemical disinfection of non-porous inanimate surfaces experimentally contam-inated with four human pathogenic viruses. Epidemiology & Infection. 1989;102(3):493-505.
7. Saknimit M, Inatsuki I, Sugiyama Y, Yagami K. Virucidal efficacy of physico-chemical treatments against coronaviruses and parvoviruses of laboratory animals. Experimental Animals. 1988;37(3):341-5.

Virus survival in cell-culture supernatant
There is only a minimal reduction in virus concentration after 21 days at 4°C and -80°C. There is a reduction in virus concentration by one log only at stable room temperature for 2 days. This would indicate that the virus is more stable than the known human coronaviruses under these conditions.
Heat at 56°C kills the SARS coronavirus at around 10.000 units per 15 min (quick reduction).

Fixatives (for use in laboratories only)
SARS virus fixation (killing) on glass slides for immunofluorescence assays in room temperature does not kill virus efficiently unless the acetone is cooled down to -20°C.

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