SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is part of a group of viruses known as coronaviruses. Hundreds of coronaviruses exist in animals, but only seven of these coronaviruses are known to cause illnesses in humans.

In fact, the illnesses that these coronaviruses cause play a huge role in how each of these viruses is named.

From a visual standpoint, coronaviruses have crown-like protrusions on their surface, and the Latin word for crown is “coronam.”

In this article, we will explore what coronaviruses are, how these viruses and their diseases are named, and other important facts you should know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

Coronaviruses are a type of virus that cause upper respiratory tract illnesses in human beings. Most coronaviruses are transmitted to humans from animals, such as bats, pigs, or camels. While hundreds of different types of coronaviruses exist, only seven coronaviruses are known to cause diseases in humans.

In 2019, a new coronavirus was discovered to cause severe respiratory symptoms in humans. Due to its similarities with the previous coronavirus that was responsible for causing severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, this new coronavirus became known as the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).

SARS-CoV-2 is the coronavirus responsible for causing 2019 coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Since that time, COVID-19 has affected over 160 million people worldwide.

Viruses are officially named by an organization called the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). Every newly discovered virus receives an appropriate name according to a hierarchical taxonomy, which groups all organisms into various species, genera, family, and more.

Initially, the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19 remained unnamed. However, the ICTV and WHO worked in tandem to give both the virus and the disease the official names we know today:

  • The ICTV named the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 based on the fact that it is considered a “severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus.”
  • The WHO named the new disease COVID-19, in which “CO” stands for corona, “VI” stands for virus, “D” stands for disease, and “-19” stands for 2019.

Ultimately, it is the responsibility of these two organizations, along with the many scientists and professionals around the world, to identify, classify, and name all new viruses and diseases.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are seven different coronaviruses that have been known to cause illness in humans. Although these coronaviruses are similar, they are separated into either the alpha coronavirus or beta coronavirus subgroups.

Common human alpha coronaviruses include:

  • 229E
  • NL63

Common human beta coronaviruses include:

Generally, the 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1 coronaviruses cause mild to moderate respiratory illnesses, with symptoms that resemble the common cold, such as sore throat, cough, and fever.

However, MERS-CoV, SARS-CoV, and SARS-CoV-2 can all lead to more severe respiratory illnesses, many of which have a higher mortality rate. In fact, according to the WHO, MERS has a mortality rate of roughly 35 percent — this is almost 10 times higher than the average mortality rate of COVID-19.

Although there have been some comparisons made between COVID-19 and the flu, they are two entirely separate illnesses.

Influenza, also known as the flu, is a viral respiratory illness caused by two influenza viruses: influenza A and influenza B. Influenza can cause mild to severe symptoms, which may include:

Most healthy people recover from the flu within 1 to 2 weeks without complications. However, young children, older adults, and those who are pregnant or have underlying health conditions may be more at risk of serious complications.

COVID-19 is a viral respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. COVID-19 symptoms are similar to the flu and may include:

COVID-19 can cause additional symptoms beyond those of the flu, such as shortness of breath and loss of taste and smell. It also appears to be more contagious than the flu and has been found to spread more quickly and easily.

In addition, COVID-19 is associated with a higher risk of complications and hospitalization, as well as an increased risk of mortality.

COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that spreads easily between people, so it’s important to practice good personal hygiene to prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Here are some of the ways that you can prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Wear a mask. Wearing a mask is one of the most simple and effective ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Masks should fit snugly over the nose and mouth, and be made of tightly woven, breathable fabric with multiple layers.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds can kill the virus. If you can’t wash your hands, use hand sanitizer until you’re able to get to a handwashing station.
  • Cover your coughs. Covering your coughs and sneezes is important to help prevent the spread of the virus through air particles. If a tissue is not available, you can use your arm or elbow instead.
  • Clean and disinfect. Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces can kill SARS-CoV-2. Commonly used surfaces, such as doorknobs, countertops, and furniture, should be cleaned as often as possible.
  • Reduce close contact. Reducing close contact with others can help prevent the spread of the virus through skin-to-skin contact. If you do need to be in close contact with others, wearing a mask can help lower transmission rates.
  • Distancing. Physical distancing is one of the easiest ways we can slow the spread of COVID-19. Maintaining 6 feet of distance between others is the current recommendation.
  • Get vaccinated. There are currently three available COVID-19 vaccines in the United States. Getting vaccinated can protect you, and help slow the spread of the virus.

If you have a COVID-19 diagnosis or have come in close contact with someone who has the virus, the CDC recommends quarantining for a period of 14 days to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.

“Coronavirus” is a catch-all term that is sometimes used to refer to either the newly discovered coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, or the disease it causes, COVID-19.

SARS-CoV-2 is one of seven coronaviruses that can cause respiratory illnesses in human beings. Although COVID-19 is similar in some ways to the flu, they are separate conditions, with different symptoms, caused by different viruses.

If you are concerned that you may have symptoms of COVID-19, remain in isolation and reach out to your doctor as soon as possible to get tested.