Coronaviruses (CoVs) are RNA viruses that have become a major public health concern since the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome-CoV (SARS-CoV) outbreak in 2002. The continuous evolution of coronaviruses was further highlighted with the emergence of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome-CoV (MERS-CoV) outbreak in 2012. Currently, the world is concerned about the 2019 novel CoV (SARS-CoV-2) that was initially identified in the city of Wuhan, China in December 2019. Patients presented with severe viral pneumonia and respiratory illness. The number of cases has been mounting since then. As of late February 2020, tens of thousands of cases and several thousand deaths have been reported in China alone, in addition to thousands of cases in other countries. Although the fatality rate of SARS-CoV-2 is currently lower than SARS-CoV, the virus seems to be highly contagious based on the number of infected cases to date. In this review, we discuss structure, genome organization, entry of CoVs into target cells, and provide insights into past and present outbreaks. The future of human CoV outbreaks will not only depend on how the viruses will evolve, but will also depend on how we develop efficient prevention and treatment strategies to deal with this continuous threat.
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