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Is it COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the name for the disease people experience is coronavirus disease or COVID-19 and the virus itself is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2.  HIV & AIDS are an example of a virus and the disease it causes.

  • Viruses are assigned names based on their genetic structure and there is a specific taxonomy (from the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses) for names.  Using the viruses structure helps researchers in devloping tests, vaccines, and medicines.
     
  • Diseases are named by the WHO and are then entered in the International Classification of Diseases. The disease is given a specific name that will "enable discussion on the disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment."
     
  • On February 11, 2020, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was announced as the official name of the new virus.  Its name was based on its genetic similarity to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003.  However, while genetically related, the two viruses are different.
     
  • On February 11, 2020, COVID-19 became the official name of this new disease.  
     
  • You might be wondering why the virus name is not usually used in talking about this. It is partly to avoid unnecessary fear for those populations that were greatly impacted by the 2003 SARS outbreak.  

SARS-CoV-2

image of the SARS-CoV-2 virus exiting a cell

This scanning electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2 (round blue objects) emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. SARS-CoV-2, also known as 2019-nCoV, is the virus that causes COVID-19. The virus shown was isolated from a patient in the U.S. Credit: NIAID-RML

Attribution

The original version of this guide was created by Karen Heskett, Instruction & Liaison Librarian at UC San Diego Library.  She generously gave me permission to use hers as a template for this guide.

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