Perspective

COVID-19: WHO names disease caused by novel coronavirus

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

WHO designated COVID-19 as the official name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus at the center of a global outbreak.

The name was selected based on letters from the words — “co” for corona, “vi” for virus and “d” for disease — and because the outbreak began in 2019. To ensure compliance with guidelines designated by WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the name does not refer directly to a geographic location, an animal, an individual or a group of people, and is pronounceable and related to the disease, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said at a news conference.

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

Meanwhile, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses’ Coronavirus Study Group has proposed calling the virus SARS-CoV-2. It has been referred to as 2019-nCoV. Tedros also announced that the death toll in China has surpassed 1,000, with 1,017 confirmed deaths in the country attributable to the virus, which is still being called 2019-nCoV. Outside of China, there are 393 confirmed cases in 24 countries and one confirmed death. There have been 13 confirmed cases in the United States.

Beginning today, WHO will activate a United Nations crisis management team led by Mike Ryan, MD, MPH, who heads the agency’s health emergencies program, to help contain the outbreak.

“We thank those countries that have contributed [funds] so far, and we call on all those who haven't to contribute urgently,” Tedros said. “There are many positive signals in terms of funding, and we hope all these positive signals will materialize. If we invest now in rational and evidence-based interventions, we have a realistic chance of stopping this outbreak.” – by Eamon Dreisbach

References:

Gorbalenya A. bioRxivorg. 2020;doi:10.1101/2020.02.07.937862.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 11, 2020, to reflect the study group’s proposal to call the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

WHO designated COVID-19 as the official name for the disease caused by the novel coronavirus at the center of a global outbreak.

The name was selected based on letters from the words — “co” for corona, “vi” for virus and “d” for disease — and because the outbreak began in 2019. To ensure compliance with guidelines designated by WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the name does not refer directly to a geographic location, an animal, an individual or a group of people, and is pronounceable and related to the disease, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD, MSc, said at a news conference.

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

Meanwhile, the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses’ Coronavirus Study Group has proposed calling the virus SARS-CoV-2. It has been referred to as 2019-nCoV. Tedros also announced that the death toll in China has surpassed 1,000, with 1,017 confirmed deaths in the country attributable to the virus, which is still being called 2019-nCoV. Outside of China, there are 393 confirmed cases in 24 countries and one confirmed death. There have been 13 confirmed cases in the United States.

Beginning today, WHO will activate a United Nations crisis management team led by Mike Ryan, MD, MPH, who heads the agency’s health emergencies program, to help contain the outbreak.

“We thank those countries that have contributed [funds] so far, and we call on all those who haven't to contribute urgently,” Tedros said. “There are many positive signals in terms of funding, and we hope all these positive signals will materialize. If we invest now in rational and evidence-based interventions, we have a realistic chance of stopping this outbreak.” – by Eamon Dreisbach

References:

Gorbalenya A. bioRxivorg. 2020;doi:10.1101/2020.02.07.937862.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on Feb. 11, 2020, to reflect the study group’s proposal to call the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2.

    Perspective
    Amesh A. Adalja

    Amesh A. Adalja

    I think naming conventions in general are confusing for the public and they're mostly done for virologists so that we have a common terminology to speak with infectious disease physicians and the various communities of scientists and physicians working on the virus, so that things can be searched for in an easy manner to facilitate easy communication. We do see, for example, SARS is called SARS — that's the disease. And then SARS-CoV is the virus. So, there are sometimes discrepancies between the virus and the disease they cause.

    I think it's really a nonissue [whether they named the virus quickly or not]. The priority is controlling the virus. It's less important what it's named. But the naming is important for scientific communication on the virus. I don't think that there was any major issue there. It's always a little bit of a debate on what to name it and the certain conventions that they have to use, and I think that's what played out here.

    • Amesh A. Adalja, MD
    • Senior scholar
      Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security

    Disclosures: Adalja reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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