Labeling a virus and its disease with formal names is vital for all further communications associated with the same. But how is it done?
- Published On March 4, 2020
With the COVID-19 creating a massive stir worldwide, a myriad of questions regarding the outbreak is surfacing in the public mind. So, going to the basics, what is the new coronavirus officially called and why is the disease named COVID-19?
Read on for answers.
Viruses And The Diseases Caused By Them Are Named Differently. Why?
Labeling a virus and its disease with formal names is vital for all further communications associated with the same. But how is it done? Who is responsible for naming newly discovered viruses and viral ailments?
Viruses and the diseases triggered by them are named through separate processes and for different purposes.
Naming a virus
How: The name of a virus is based on the genetic structure of the virus.
Why: Named to aid diagnostic tests and develop cures including vaccines and medicines.
Who: Viruses are named by virologists and the wider scientific community. The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) is primarily responsible for officially naming any new virus.
Naming a disease
How: Multiple factors play a role in deciding the name of a disease.
Why: To aid discussion on prevention, containment, severity, and treatment of the disease.
Who: Diseases are officially named by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
Naming Of The New Coronavirus And Its Disease
WHO and ICTV communicated regarding the naming of both the newly discovered virus and its disease.
Name of the virus by ICTV: Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or SARS-CoV-2.
When Named: February 11, 2020
Why: The name was selected as the new virus is genetically related to the coronavirus that triggered the 2003 outbreak of SARS. However, the viruses are only related and not the same.
Name of the Disease by WHO: Coronavirus disease or COVID-19
When: February 11, 2020
Why: As per guidelines formerly developed with the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) of the United Nations and OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health). An official name had to be selected to discourage the use of other names like the Wuhan coronavirus that are stigmatizing or inaccurate. A name had to be selected that did not refer to any individual or group of people, location, or animal but something can be connected to the disease.
WHO Prefers Alternative Names
To prevent unnecessary panic, WHO has begun referring to the SARS-CoV-2 as “the COVID-19 virus” or simply “the virus responsible for COVID-19.” Keeping in mind the fear that certain populations harbor about the deadly 2003 SARS outbreak, WHO believes that it is best to use alternative names for the new virus from a risk communications perspective. However, the official name given by ICTV to the virus will be used for all scientific purposes.