As the World Health Organization (WHO) has noted, viruses and the diseases they cause often have different names: “For example, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS. People often know the name of a disease, such as measles, but not the name of the virus that causes it (rubeola).”
During the pandemic of 2020, most everyone was familiar with the name of the coronavirus disease that was sweeping across multiple countries (COVID-19), but less so with the name of the virus that caused it (SARS-CoV-2). In either case, many people weren’t aware of the derivations of those names, leading some to take japes like the following seriously:
The claim in the above meme is false. The true origins of the names of the coronavirus behind the 2020 pandemic and the disease stemming from it are rather straightforward, however.
The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the newly discovered virus on Feb. 11, 2020. As the WHO observed, “This name was chosen because the virus is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak of 2003. While related, the two viruses are different.”
On the same day, the WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of the new disease caused by that virus. The first part of that name is a shortening of the phrase “coronavirus disease,” and the latter part reflects that the disease was first reported in the year 2019.
Although the strange new pneumonia of unknown cause first appeared in a cluster in Wuhan, China, nothing about the name of that illness or the virus that causes it reflects a geographical origin. The notion that the name COVID-19 stands for “Chinese Originated Viral Infectious Disease” and reflects that it is caused by the “19th virus to come out of China” is nothing more than a bad joke.