SARS-CoV-2 And COVID-19: What's The Difference?
As the number of infected persons grows globally, health officials share more information about the coronavirus disease. Keeping that information straight, at the rate it's changing, can be challenging for those tasked with stopping its spread. To help, the CleanLink team researched the terms that are causing much of the confusion.
When this latest infection was first reported in China, experts were calling it the "2019 novel coronavirus," which is simply a new coronavirus that had not been previously identified. As time went on, health officials identified it as COVID-19 and now, intertwined with that is SARS-CoV-2.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are actually multiple types of coronaviruses, some of which commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. There are seven types of coronavirus that infect humans, three of which evolved from animal strains.
Because there are many coronavirus types, referring to it simply as "coronavirus" is very general. The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) encourage experts to use COVID-19 when referring to this new disease, a novel (or new) coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans. In COVID-19, ‘CO’ stands for ‘corona,’ ‘VI’ for ‘virus,’ ‘D’ for disease and 19 indicates the year it was discovered.
Just as the general public has become familiar with this terminology, officials have also begun using SARS-CoV-2 in connection with the recent outbreak. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, shortened to SARS-CoV-2, is actually the virus that causes COVID-19 (the disease). As the name indicates, this virus is genetically related to the SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV) that caused an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003, however it is not the same virus.
How do all these terms fit together? "Coronavirus" is a generic term that includes a large family of viruses, similar to saying someone has the flu. SARS-CoV-2 is a specific virus that can cause COVID-19, a disease. As WHO explains, this is similar to differentiating HIV and AIDS — HIV is a virus that causes AIDS. Outlined on their website, "People often know the name of a disease, such as measles, but not the name of the virus that causes it (rubeola)."
Whether talking about the virus or the disease, it's important to practice and share best practices for cleaning and disinfecting. The CDC offers standard recommendations for everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, here.