Where does the name COVID-19 come from?

  • Coronavirus and COVID-19 are NOT the same thing
  • Coronavirus is the virus that causes COVID-19, the disease
  • The disease was named after 1,000 people had already died from it

In just the past several weeks, the terms “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” have become household names around the globe. Yet, there are still plenty of people who don’t actually understand how these identifiers came to be or what differentiates the two.

Why the virus and the disease have different names?

Both viruses and the diseases they cause typically have separate names. One of the most common examples of this is how HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), the disease. Likewise, the coronavirus—also formerly known as “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2,” the abbreviation “SARS-CoV-2,” or “2019 novel coronavirus”—is the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

Although the name was initially decided on due to the tangible genetic relation of the COVID-19 virus to the 2003 SARS outbreak, the two are obviously very different.

As far as the name “COVID-19” goes, the breakdown is as follows:

  • CO = corona
  • VI = virus
  • D = disease
  • 19 = when the first human infection occurred, in November or December of 2019

The name of the virus was first revealed by WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Feb. 11, by following guidelines previously developed with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). By the time a name was provided, COVID-19 had already been responsible for more than 42,000 confirmed cases and more than 1,000 deaths in China.

Sources: Scientific American, StatNews, WHO

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