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IMAGES: What New Coronavirus Looks Like Under The Microscope

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In this image from a scanning electron microscope, the new coronavirus is in orange.
NIAID-RML

In this image from a scanning electron microscope, the new coronavirus is in orange.

The images of the current outbreak of the new coronavirus have so far been very human: air travelers wearing masks, tourists stranded on cruise ships, medical workers wearing protective suits.

But new images of the virus show us what it looks like up close.

These images were made using scanning and transmission electron microscopes at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases' Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Mont. NIAID is part of the National Institutes of Health.

Emmie de Wit, chief of NIAID's Molecular Pathogenesis Unit, provided the virus samples. Microscopist Elizabeth Fischer produced the images, and the lab's visual medical arts office digitally colorized the images.

NIAID notes that the images look rather similar to previous coronavirus MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus, which emerged in 2012) and the original SARS-CoV (severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, which emerged in 2002).

"That is not surprising: The spikes on the surface of coronaviruses give this virus family its name – corona, which is Latin for 'crown,' and most any coronavirus will have a crown-like appearance," the institute explains in a blog post.

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On Tuesday, the World Health Organization formally named the disease caused by the new coronavirus: COVID-19.

There have been more than 47,000 laboratory-confirmed cases so far and more than 1,300 deaths. Cases have been documented in 25 countries, but the vast majority are in China.

China's Hubei province expanded its criteria for identifying new coronavirus cases on Thursday, which led to a major spike in reported cases there. The province added a new category to its reporting: "clinical cases." That means patients will be counted if they exhibit all the symptoms — which include fever, cough and shortness of breath — but have either not been tested or tested negative for the virus itself.

That sudden spike, caused by the change in reporting, may complicate efforts to track the disease's progression in China.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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