WHO Names Disease Caused by New Coronavirus: COVID-19

WHO locks down a naming convention for the disease caused by novel coronaviruses. As for the virus itself (2019-nCoV), the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses has named it SARS-CoV-2.

There is now an official name for the disease caused by the new coronavirus, which has claimed more than 1000 lives: COVID-19.

The World Health Organization made the announcement via Twitter on 11 Feb.

“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” Tedros told reporters. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreak.”

Also today, an 11-member committee from the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses  (ICTV) has assigned a name for the virus that causes the disease now known as COVID-19. The name they have put forth is SARS-CoV-2, which “formally recognizes this virus as a sister to severe acute respiratory syndrome coronaviruses.”

The ICTV is concerned with the designation and naming of virus taxa (i.e. species, genus, family, etc.) rather than the designation of virus common names or disease names. For an outbreak of a new viral disease, there are three names to be decided: the disease, the virus and the species. The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for the first, expert virologists for the second, the ICTV for the third.

The WHO issued guidelines in 2015 for naming new human infectious diseases and syndromes which called for avoidance of geographic locations (e.g. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish Flu, Rift Valley fever), people’s names (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), species of animal or food (e.g. swine flu, bird flu, monkey pox), cultural, population, industry or occupational references (e.g. legionnaires), and terms that incite undue fear (e.g. unknown, fatal, epidemic).

The best practices also state that a disease name should consist of generic descriptive terms, based on the symptoms that the disease causes (e.g. respiratory disease, neurologic syndrome, watery diarrhoea) and more specific descriptive terms when robust information is available on how the disease manifests, who it affects, its severity or seasonality (e.g. progressive, juvenile, severe, winter). If the pathogen that causes the disease is known, it should be part of the disease name (e.g. coronavirus, influenza virus, salmonella).


Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus – The species and its viruses, a statement of the Coronavirus Study Group BioRxiv

New Coronavirus Disease Officially Named COVID-19 By The World Health Organization NPR

Coronavirus latest: WHO officially names disease COVID-19 Nature

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