Breaking it down: what does “SARS-CoV-2” even mean, anyway?

What does SARS-CoV-2 stand for in a clinical sense? Here’s the truth behind the name.

What does SARS-CoV-2 mean? The truth is out there, and the answer is actually more obvious than you would think.

SARS-CoV-2 is a fairly straightforward amalgamation of descriptors pertaining to what COVID-19 is capable of as a pathogen. Here’s the scoop in brief.

SARS-CoV-2: meaning and name origin

SARS-CoV-2 means severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2. The first part, “SARS,” is simply an acronym of the first four terms, severe acute respiratory syndrome, while “CoV” is a contraction of the word “coronavirus.”

You may recognize SARS from headlines past, as it was declared an international issue by the CDC in 2003. COVID-19 is a reasonably close relative of this highly infectious respiratory pathogen. They’re far from identical, but the association is strong enough to warrant the “2” tagged at the end. It’s the nail-biting sequel that nobody ever asked for.

This moniker was chosen by a team within the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) in 2020, right at the beginning of the pandemic. In a formal setting, public health experts may instead use the phrase “the virus responsible for COVID-19” in place of SARS-CoV-2.

While we’re at it: what does COVID-19 stand for?

Simply put, the “COVID” in COVID-19 stands for “coronavirus disease.” The “19” refers to the year 2019, which is when the novel human coronavirus was first detected officially. This family of viruses earned this name in honor of the icosahedral “crown,” or “corona,” of projections that make the virus itself such a potent, infectious agent of disease.

At the end of the day, these clinical names help the entire world reckon with COVID intellectually and objectively, without the stigma of some of the colloquial terms many use to characterize it as an Asian problem or as a disease of the poor.  Science for the win.

When to use COVID-19 vs. SARS-CoV-2

We’ll be the first to admit that the term “COVID-19” is a lot catchier than SARS-CoV-2, but both of these names serve their own unique purposes. 

COVID-19 refers to the disease. SARS-CoV-2 is the virus responsible for it. Simple enough, right?

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