Coronavirus, COVID-19 – On Corona Terminology

Term Formation

Updated 6.4.2020/AN

There seems to be some confusion on the terminology – or the names – related to the disease and its cause. I have compiled some glossary links containing terms and definitions (see below). An interesting information source is the article Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it published by the WHO, which I used for the following notes (work in progress):


The virus is officially called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes is called COVID-19. These official names originate from different authorities: International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) names viruses according to the genetic structure and WHO names diseases according their own guidelines. (WHO)

In the daily talk and in the media, various other names appear and quite often the virus and the disease are called for instance “coronavirus” and “coronavirus disease” or just both of them are called “corona”. However, this is just one type of corona viruses, and for professional purposes, e.g. for the virologists and other scientists and healthcare etc., it is important to distinguish between them. Right in the start, the virus was officially called “2019 novel coronavirus” (WHO), when there was not yet enough knowledge on its genetic structure. Also later on, “novel coronavirus” appears frequently in media, as well as in the first official and scientific documents describing it (WHO).

The naming principles of viruses serve virologists and others who develop diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. The name SARS-CoV-2 refers to the fact that the new virus is genetically related to the coronavirus that was behind the SARS outbreak in 2003. However, they are different from each other. (WHO)

Neither the official name severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 nor its abbreviation SARS-CoV-2 are well suited for the daily use. The first one is transparent but all too long while the short form is too complex and thus difficult to remember and to accommodate in spoken language.

WHO is concerned on how to discuss on the disease, its prevention, spreading, transmission, severity and treatment. In this case, the international organization was concerned that the use of the name SARS would create unnecessary fear especially in Asia because of its 2003 SARS outbreak. Therefore they wanted to introduce the term COVID-19 for the disease, while the virus is called “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when a wider audience is being addressed. However, the official name of the virus remains SARS-CoV-2 as coined by the ICTV. (WHO)


Source: WHO: Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it.  [14.3.2020 an]

Here is a selection of glossaries containing COVID-19 related terminology:

Information on COVID-19



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *