Naming a virus is not a simple process. TUCHONG
When we are born, we are given names that stay with us for our whole lives. Some names include good wishes and hopes from parents, while others may be unique and easy to remember. But do you know how the new coronavirus got its name?
According to International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses, an organization responsible for naming new viruses, the task of naming a virus is no less important than naming a person.
When a disease breaks out, people focus on the public health response and the official naming of a new virus is often delayed. But that may lead to many problems. The most obvious one is that different media organizations may use different names for the same virus in their reports. As we enter the internet era, information and news can spread to every household in seconds. This means different names can take hold quickly and be hard to take back, which may confuse those who know little about the virus.
But naming a virus is never easy. Over the past decade, some improper names have caused problems. In 2009, the “swine flu” was widely used before the official name, H1N1 virus, was announced. This led Egypt to slaughter all of its pigs even though it emerged and spread among people who hadn’t been near pigs. In 2015, MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) caused a backlash against the nations and people of this region.
So in 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the names of viruses should be easy to remember but avoid being named after geographic locations, people, species or classes of animals and foods.
Following these principles, the new coronavirus we are suffering from was named “COVID-19” by the WHO on Feb 11. In this name, “CO” means “corona”, “VI” stands for “virus” and “D” means “disease”.
Next time you read about a virus you don’t know, you may get some clues about it from its name.