The difference between coronavirus and COVID-19

By Matt Collins Article may include affiliate links

The words “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” — and other confusing medical terms — have suddenly started popping up on scripts and articles at nearly every news organization in the world.

However, what’s the difference between these terms?

Coronavirus is technically a blanket name of a group of viruses that, in turn, can cause diseases including the current outbreak of COVID-19.

COVID-19’s name is derived from the phrase “Co”rona “Vi”rus “D”isease with the “19” a reference to 2019, the year the outbreak first started.

The term “novel coronavirus” (also known as “nCoV” or “2019-nCoV”) was a provisional name the medical community used after the 2019 variant of the virus started popping up.

“Novel” is meant to indicate that the strain was “new.”

Giving viral strains the label “novel” is often used by scientists when a strain of “significance” appears but has not been investigated enough to give it a “real” name.

In March 2020, the term “Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2” (SARS-CoV-2) was announced as the replacement for the term “novel coronavirus” to refer to the virus that causes COVID-19.

However, to avoid confusion with the similarly named SARS disease, the World Health Organization has referred to SARS-CoV-2, in its own communications, as “the virus responsible for COVID-19.”

It’s important to note SARS by itself is also the name of a respiratory disease caused by a virus, but not an actual viral strain.

To make things somewhat more confusing, SARS is caused by a virus named SARS coronavirus (without a number), but this is reserved for the strain circulating 2002 through 2003.

While the 2019 to 2020 outbreak of COVID-19 was caused by a virus in the same family as the one that causes SARS, officials have tried to distinguish between both the diseases and viruses that cause them.

Most medical authorities do not recommend naming pathogens or diseases after locations, so references including “Wuhan,” “China” or “Asia” should be avoided except when reporting the locals of the initial clusters.