The coronavirus' crown-like spikes give the virus family its name — here's what it looks like

insider@insider.com (Holly Secon)
coronavirus

BSIP/UIG Via Getty Images

The coronavirus family is a big one — it includes the common cold, pneumonia, SARS, and the new coronavirus that's spreading in China.

The various strains can cause very different ailments, but they have one thing in common: an external structure that features little crown-like spikes.

That's what gives the family its name.

Such spikes affect the way that a virus binds onto a host cell and infects it.

2020 01 27T000000Z_166150785_RC2EOE902530_RTRMADP_3_CHINA HEALTH.JPG

Courtesy of IVDC, China CDC via GISAID/Handout via REUTERS

Coronaviruses are common in many species of animals, such as camels, cattle, cats, and bats. On occasion, strains mutate and spread from animals to humans.

The coronavirus family

Chinese authorities identified the outbreak of a new form of coronavirus at the end of December. Its official name is 2019-nCoV, and some experts think it first jumped to people in a seafood market that sold live animals in the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

The outbreak has spread to 16 other countries, claimed the lives of at least 100 people, and infected more than 4,600. It can spread from person to person.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang wearing a mask and protective suit speaks to medical workers as he visits the Jinyintan hospital where the patients of the new coronavirus are being treated following the outbreak, in Wuhan, Hubei province, China January 27, 2020. cnsphoto via REUTERS.

Cnsphoto/Reuters

SARS and MERS (both coronaviruses) also jumped from animals to people, then were able to spread through close human contact.

Scientists are still not sure why only certain coronaviruses are able to infect people.

Public-health experts are urging standard preventative measures for all travelers, such as frequent hand-washing and avoiding close contact with anyone who is sick. 

No, coronaviruses are not related to beer

Google has seen a spike in searches for "Corona beer virus" as the outbreak has grown, but to state the obvious: Corona the beer and the coronavirus family are completely unrelated.

outbreak coronavirus world 1024x683px

CDC

In Latin, corōna means crown, and modern romance languages follow suit: In Spanish, corona means crown, and Corona beer originated in Mexico. In English, the anatomical term "corona" is used for body parts resembling a crown. The term can also refer to the outer part of the sun's plasma.

This isn't the first time a disease homonym has affected a well-known brand. According to the New York Times, during the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the 1980s, sales of the diet candy Ayds dropped approximately 50%. 

Read the original article on Business Insider