Play this podcast:
Coronaviruses belong to the order Nidovirales, family Coronaviridae, and are enveloped viruses with a positive-sense single-stranded RNA genome. They are classified into four genera: Alphacoronavirus, Betacoronavirus, Gammacoronavirus, and Deltacoronavirus. Coronaviruses cause a range of infections in humans and animals, for the most part not too serious.
In the aftermath of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-epidemic in 2002/2003 caused by a coronavirus probably originally from bats, a large number of novel bat coronaviruses was described. In addition to SARS-CoV, four human coronaviruses (HCoVs), termed HCoV-OC43, -229E, -NL63, and -HKU1 are known. Recently, a sixth HCoV was described, now known as MERS-CoV – Middle East respiratory syndrome, see: 10 things you should know about novel coronavirus (MERS-CoV).
Bat species are surprisingly numerous and compared with other animals we know relatively little about them. For example, a recent paper in JGV looked at 1,868 specimens from 1,562 individual bats collected between 2008 and 2012 in Costa Rica, Panama, Ecuador and Brazil. In three out of the four countries (except Ecuador), bat coronaviruses were detected (Highly diversified coronaviruses in neotropical bats. J Gen Virol. 12 Jun 2013).
A recent perspective into the spread of MERS appeared recently in the NY Times: Investigation Follows Trail of a Virus in Hospitals.