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Coronaviruses were known to humans decades ago. SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus is just a new type of Coronavirus

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A lot of posts with images and videos are being shared on Facebook with a claim that humans knew about COVID-19 much before its outbreak in 2020. While some have posted the video clip of a Netflix series (‘My Secret Terrius’) as a proof, others have posted an image of Ramesh Gupta’s Zoology textbook claiming that it contains the medicine for COVID-19. Let’s try to analyze the claim made in the post.

The archived version of the post can be found here.
The archived version of the post can be found here.

Claim: COVID-19 was known to humans before its outbreak in 2020.

Fact: The new SAR-CoV-2 virus (which cause COVID-19) was first reported in December 2019. All the old images and videos being shared on social media refer to the virus as Coronavirus, not as SAR-CoV-2 (or COVID-19). Coronaviruses were known to human decades ago. All the references made on social media were about the Coronaviruses, a general term for various viruses which cause diseases ranging from the common cold to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Hence the claims made in the posts areMISLEADING.  

On looking at both the image and video, it can be observed that both just refer to the term ‘Coronavirus’. On the WHO website, it can be read that ‘Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which may cause illness in animals or humans.  In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19.’ So, just a reference to ‘Coronavirus’, in the image and video, cannot directly link them to the SAR-CoV-2 virus (a type of Coronavirus which causes COVID-19).

In the ‘Virology’ magazine published in 2012, it can be read that ‘coronavirus disease was first described in 1931, with the first coronavirus (HCoV-229E) isolated from humans in 1965’. Before COVID-19, two other disease outbreaks (SARS-CoV in 2003 and MERS‐CoV in 2012) were also caused in humans by Coronaviruses. More information about the previous strains of Coronavirus and the SARS-CoV-2 (previously called as 2019-nCoV) can be seen here and types of Human Coronaviruses can be found be here.

In the Zoology textbook, it was given that ‘common cold is caused by various kinds of viruses. In 75 percent of cases, it is due to Rhinovirus and in remaining cases, it is due to Coronavirus’. It does not mention about SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19. The medicines suggested in the book were for the treatment of common cold, not for COVID-19. On the WHO website, it can be read that, ‘to date, there is no vaccine and no specific antiviral medicine to prevent or treat COVID-2019’. Also, the Press Information Bureau has clarified that the viral message is ‘fake’.

Coming to the video clip of Netflix series (‘My Secret Terrius’), it also just refers to the term ‘Coronavirus’ and says that the mortality rate of the new mutant virus is almost 90 percent. But, the overall mortality rate of COVID-19 was reported to be just around 5 percent. While the virus mentioned in the video clip affects a human in just 5 minutes, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has an incubation period of 1- 14 days. So, just a reference to ‘Coronavirus’ excited the social media users to share the video in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Previously, a photo of a Dettol bottle, manufactured in October 2019, was also shared with a claim that Dettol can kill the new coronavirus, as ‘Coronavirus’ was mentioned on the bottle. FACTLY has debunked the claim and wrote a fact-check article, which can be read here.

To sum it up, Coronaviruses were known to humans decades ago. SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) virus is just a new type of Coronavirus.

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