Skip to Main Content

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Understanding a Pandemic

Searching PubMed

Search Strategy

The term "coronavirus" doesn't just apply to the most recent virus causing an outbreak. Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that includes other outbreaks that captured international attention, including Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Because of this, searching for the general term of "coronavirus" will lead to an overwhelming amount of information. 

As you can see, a simple search for "coronavirus" returns over 15,000 results; far too many for any researcher to comb through in a timely manner. 

Instead, try using a more specific search, like: "2019 ncov"[tiab] OR (("novel coronavirus"[tiab] OR "new coronavirus"[tiab] ) AND (wuhan[tiab] OR 2019[tiab]))This brings back 27 results, which is a much more manageable amount to review. Officially, this latest virus is known as 2019 Novel Coronavirus, 2019-nCoV, or COVID-19, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome 2. Any of these terms will be a better choice than "coronavirus" if you're looking for information about the most recent outbreaks. 

As always, if you need help building a more effective search, don't hesitate to reach out to the library. 

Using Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

In light of the current outbreak, the NLM has added both Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 and COVID-19 as a supplementary concepts to MeSH in response to updates issued by the CDC and WHO. "Coronavirus" was added to the MeSH database as a MeSH term in 1994. Using it in a MeSH search will return a large number of results. MeSH is built as a hierarchy, meaning terms will branch down to be more specific. You can see below that Coronavirus has many subcategories or branches under it. If you're looking for articles on COVID-19, this won't be a helpful term.


For better results, the NLM recommends using the new supplementary concept Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 for searching the MeSH database. This term was added on January 14, 2020, so its much newer and more specific. You can also use the entry terms listed below.

You can also search using the MeSH Supplementary Concept COVID-19. This is a newer concept added to the MeSH database on February 13, 2020.