Think of all the different names used to identify the virus causing our current global pandemic. Coronavirus, coronavirus disease, COVID-19, the novel coronavirus, and also SARS-CoV-2? In covering the current COVID-19 outbreak, the media has seemingly been using all of these terms interchangeably. However, contrary to their usage, these words aren’t all equal in formal definition. That said, here’s a quick guide explaining the difference between COVID-19 and coronavirus, as well as all the other related terminology.
Coronavirus Doesn’t Necessarily Refer to COVID-19
The term “coronavirus” doesn’t actually identify the specific virus that’s currently plaguing our planet. Instead, “coronavirus” refers to the set of viruses that cause respiratory issues. Not all coronaviruses are fatal. Some induce common cold-like symptoms, while others, when contracted, can cause severe lung problems that lead to hospitalization. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are examples of coronaviruses.
COVID-19 VS the Novel Coronavirus
While the term “coronavirus” doesn’t actually specify whether SARS, MERS, or the virus causing COVID-19 is behind the current outbreak, the term “novel coronavirus” solves that. The “novel coronavirus” refers to the specific coronavirus plaguing our world today. The word “novel” indicates that this coronavirus was not previously understood by health experts. That said, the terms “the novel coronavirus” and “COVID-19” are not interchangeable. Rather, COVID-19 is the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. This distinction is similar to that between HIV and AIDS. While HIV is the virus, AIDS is the disease caused by it.
COVID-19 is an abbreviation of the term “coronavirus disease 2019.” While more people across the globe are suffering from COVID-19 in 2020, the virus originated in Wuhan, China in 2019, last year, in December.
The symptoms of COVID-19 are identical to those of the flu or common cold. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these COVID-19 symptoms typically appear after two to 14 days of exposure: fever, cough, and shortness of breath. Some who have contracted it also experience nausea and diarrhea.
The CDC also identifies emergency warning signs for COVID-19, which include: severe difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or pressure, bluish hue in lips or face, and new confusion or inability to arouse. For those suffering from any emergency warning signs for COVID-19, the CDC urges them to get immediate medical attention.
Those at the highest risk of death by COVID-19 include individuals over the age of 65, people who are immunocompromised, and those with chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease.
What about SARS-CoV-2?
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 or “SARS-CoV-2” is actually the full name for the novel coronavirus given by the World Health Organization (WHO). Since it was discovered that the novel coronavirus has a genetic link to the 2003 SARS virus, the WHO saw it fit to put “SARS” in the name. But the WHO almost never uses “SARS-CoV-2” to identify the virus behind COVID-19. On their online COVID-19 guide, they explained they have chosen to not use the term “SARS-CoV-2” because “using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003.”
Instead of “SARS-CoV-2,” the WHO has opted for using the terms “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when identifying the novel coronavirus in reports to the public. But the WHO maintains the names they’ve elected to use do not intend to replace the official name of the virus granted by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).