Identifying the source of the outbreak

The novel (new) coronavirus that first appeared in China had never been seen before, so it quickly gained the attention of scientists around the world.

Epidemiologists did field investigations to find out how the new virus started. They conducted surveys in the community and in health facilities and collected nose and throat specimens for lab analyses. These investigations showed them who was infected, when they became sick, and where they had been just before they got sick.

Using this information, epidemiologists determined that the virus possibly came from an animal sold at a market. The new virus was found to be a coronavirus, and coronaviruses cause a severe acute respiratory syndrome. This new coronavirus is similar to SARS-CoV, so it was named SARS-CoV-2 The disease caused by the virus was named COVID-19 (COronVIrusDisease-2019) to show that it was discovered in 2019.

An outbreak is called an epidemic when there is a sudden increase in cases. As COVID-19 began spreading in Wuhan, China, it became an epidemic. Because the disease then spread across several countries and affected a large number of people, it was classified as a pandemic.

Epidemic: Sudden increase in cases of a disease.

Epidemiology:  Study of disease and other health outcomes, their causes in a population, and how they can be controlled.

Outbreak: A higher-­than-expected number of occurrences of disease in a specific location and time.

Pandemic: Event in which a disease spreads across several countries and affects a large number of people.

Last Updated July 1, 2020