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SARS-CoV-2 belongs to a family of single-stranded RNA viruses known as Coronaviridae, a common type of virus that affects mammals, birds, and reptiles.
In humans, it often causes mild infections, similar to the common cold, and accounts for 10–30% of upper respiratory infections in adults . More serious infections are rare, although coronaviruses can cause enteric and neurological diseases . The incubation period of a coronavirus varies, but is usually up to two weeks .
Earlier coronavirus outbreaks were the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), first reported in Saudi Arabia in September 2012, and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) identified in southern China in 2003  . MERS infected around 2,500 people and caused more than 850 deaths, while SARS infected more than 8,000 people and caused nearly 800 deaths  . The death rate from these diseases was 35% and 10%, respectively.
SARS-CoV-2 is a new coronavirus strain that has not yet been identified in humans. Although the incubation time of this strain is not currently known, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that symptoms can appear as early as 2 days or up to 14 days after exposure . Chinese researchers have indicated that SARS-CoV-2 can be infectious during its incubation period .
How contagious is COVID-19?
An increasing number of confirmed diagnoses, including among health professionals, has shown that SARS-CoV-2 spreads from person to person . The preliminary reproduction count (i.e. the average number of cases a single case will produce over its period of infection) is currently estimated to be 1.4 to 2.5, meaning that each infected individual will be between 1.4 and 2, Could infect 5 people .
Similar to other common respiratory infections, MERS and SARS are transmitted through respiratory droplets produced by an infected person when they sneeze or cough . Measures to protect against infection work under the current assumption that SARS-CoV-2 is spread in the same way.