On February 11, 2020, WHO Director (WHO) Director-General Tan Desai announced at the press conference of WHO headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland that the new coronavirus (2019-nCoV) infection is officially Name it “COVID-19”.

On the same day, the International Virus Classification Commission (ICTV) announced the official name of the new coronavirus: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 = “text-remarks” label = “Remarks”> (SARS-CoV-2) .

However, the confusion and controversy caused by the name change have also followed.

Messy naming process

In December 2019, “unknown cause of pneumonia” appeared in Wuhan, China. Due to the small number of initial infections and the lack of corresponding names, the eight Wuhan doctors who noticed the condition were discussed under the names of “SARS confirmed cases” and “suspected SARS”. And foreign research institutions that first noticed the virus called the new coronavirus “Wuhan coronavirus” (Wuhan Coronavirus) .

January 7, 2020, Shanghai (affiliated to Fudan University) Public Health Clinical Center and School of Public Health, Wuhan Center of Huazhong University of Science and Technology Hospitals, China Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Institute of Infectious Disease Control and Prevention, Wuhan Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, University of Sydney, Australia and other units have submitted to top academic journals (Nature) Submit a paper on a new coronavirus: “A new coronavirus associated with respiratory diseases in China”, the research team refers to the virus as WH-Human 1 Coronavirus (WHCV) .

On January 12, the whole genome was confirmed to be a novel coronavirus, and the WHO named it “2019-nCoV”. (2019 New Coronavirus) Virus) . However, many people do not know that the name of this new coronavirus is only temporary.

On February 7, the National Health and Health Commission issued a notice on the tentative naming of new coronavirus pneumonia, and decided to tentatively name “new coronavirus-infected pneumonia” as “new coronavirus pneumonia”, referred to as “new coronary pneumonia”; The English name is “Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia”, or “NCP” for short.

On February 9th, Shi Zhengli, a researcher at the Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and Jiang Shibo, a professor of molecular virology in the School of Basic Medical Sciences, Fudan University, in the “China Virology” (Virologica Sinica) suggested in a paper in the journal that the latest virus is called infectious acute respiratory syndrome (transmissible acute respiratory syndrome , TARS-CoV ).

On February 11, WHO announced the official name of the virus-caused disease “COVID-19”. For the new disease name, WHO explained that in COVID, CO stands for coronavirus (Coronavirus ), VIMeans virus (virus ), D means disesse (Disease) , 19 represents 2019.

It is worth noting that COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus that caused it.

Tan Desai, Director-General of the World Health Organization, attends the press conference

At the same time as the WHO conference, the ICTV expert group published detailed instructions on virus naming on its official website and preprinted platform BioRxiv. A paper from the ICTV Coronavirus Research Group shows. “According to the phylogeny, taxonomy and practice of the virus, the International Viral Classification Commission officially identified the virus as a coronavirus associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome. (SARS- CoVs) sister virus and designated it as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) “.

In other words, the new crown virus and SARS virus as we know it are “close relatives”.

The controversy arises

The controversy over the names of viruses and diseases has begun. Obviously the confusion comes from WHO and ICTV, because they are named completely differently.

Of course, SARS-CoV-2 is not a satisfactory name for WHO, and WHO has no plans to adopt it.

According to a relevant WHO spokesperson in an email to Science magazine: From the perspective of risk communication, the use of the name SARS may be unnecessary for some people Fear, especially in Asia, which was most affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003, could have unintended consequences. For this and other reasons, WHO will continue to use the names “COVID-19 virus” or “COVID-19 virus”.

Justus Liebig University Giessen (Justus Liebig University Giessen ) = “text-remarks” label = “Remarks”> (John Ziebuhr) According to recent genome sequencing, the new virus belongs to the same species as the virus that caused the SARS epidemic in 2002-2003. The virus is called SARS Coronavirus. The virus may be novel to the rest of the world, so the committee ’s approach is to add a “2” to the virus isolated from patients in Wuhan and elsewhere, and name it SARS-CoV-2.

But Zibul also mentioned that WHO has informed him that the name does not match the disease and that the new virus is related to SARS.In contrast, infection rates are lower, mortality rates are higher, and mild illnesses are more common.

It is worth mentioning that if these two names are recognized by everyone, then the name of the virus and disease will be inconsistent for the first time. People are used to the same names for viruses and diseases. For example, smallpox virus causes smallpox, and AIDS is caused by HIV. Suddenly everything is different because COVID-19 is caused by SARS-CoV-2 .

The name is just the name

Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota (Mike Osterholm) says he will not use SARS either -CoV-2, he does n’t think it ’s an accurate name, but actually connects a completely different disease (SARS) with the Disease (COVID-19) is confused.

But Zibur responded that many other researchers might start using the new name. “The positive response I have received from many colleagues, including Chinese scientists, … gives me confidence that the virus name SARS-CoV-2 will be widely accepted by the research community and others within a short period of time.

For the rename, Jiang Shibo, a virologist at Fudan University in Shanghai, said that although the two viruses belong to the same species, SARS-CoV-2 spreads much faster than SARS-CoV, but has a lower lethality. The SARS-CoV virus subsided during the summer, but no one knows what the new virus will do in the coming months. One might think it behaves similarly, and may stop taking precautions when summer comes.

Painting of the new crown virus entering the lungs (Source: Science)

Sun Caijun, an infectious disease researcher at Sun Yat-sen University, said that given the rapid spread of the virus, he prefers to name the virus as a group of acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (Clustered acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus, CARS-CoV for short) or rapid spread respiratory syndrome coronavirus (rapid spread respiratory syndrome coronavirus, RARS-CoV) .

However, not everyone is troubled by the given name.

Lijun Rong, a virologist at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said: No matter what the name is, it will not affect the public’s response to the outbreak. He said that people just want the virus to disappear as soon as possible, “names are just names.”

The “hidden rules” of previous virus naming

So, in the past, how were various viruses named?

In fact, the names of some newly discovered disease-causing viruses are mostly named after the area, that is, the place name where the virus was found or isolated first.

For example, MERS stands for Middle East respiratory syndrome (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) , the virus was first discovered in the Middle East in 2012 .

In recent yearsThe deadly Ebola virus (Ebola virus) was first discovered in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Ebola is the name of a local river.

Similar newly discovered diseases, as well as Lyme disease (Lyme disease) , Lyme is a small town in Connecticut, Northeast United States .

In 2015, WHO established new rules for newly discovered pathogens or diseases. In a guidance document on the nomenclature of new pathogens or diseases, the WHO requires scientists to pay attention to avoid naming to bring unnecessary negative effects to the people of the country, the economy and the local people.


According to the naming guidelines issued by the WHO, it is suggested that the name of a disease or pathogen should include the following factors: description of the gene, related to symptoms, affected population, severity or seasonality. From this point of view, the name of SARS, the full name is severe acute respiratory syndrome. Although it was named before the new rules in 2015, it is in line with WHO guidelines.



https://www.nature.com/articles / d41586-020-00154-w