Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a disease caused by SARS-CoV—the "SARS CoronaVirus".

We now have a second disease caused by a second coronavirus, which we call SARS-CoV-2.

So why is the disease named COVID-19 now, instead of SARS-2 (or SARS-19 if you wanted the year)?

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    "I think this is a duplicate question then, because the answers are the same"... that's fascinating. So "are mushrooms fungi?" is a duplicate of "is SARS-Cov-2 a virus?" because both answers are "yes"? I know I really didn't care who came up with the virus name; I cared about the rationale behind it.
    – user541686
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 16:26
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    @Narusan: "This does not mean your question was unwarranted, or has been asked before." I realize it might not have been your intended message, but on my end, there is a link right there in red encouraging me to delete my question, right next to the other link telling me to edit it. The fact that it's called "duplicate question" doesn't help either. Literally every aspect of it explicitly conveys the message that the question shouldn't exist in its current form any longer, which comes across as a giant slap in the face. I've been on SE for a long time and I just don't do this to people.
    – user541686
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 18:28
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    @Narusan: Anyway, not blaming you specifically, just saying this is about as unwelcoming as anybody could be to a decent question, especially for a question that's popular enough to gain 4k views over the span of just a ~day on a beta SE site. It pretty much guarantees I will try not to post here again in the future. If you guys are active on this site, it might not be a bad idea to try a different approach in the future to avoid turning others off inadvertently.
    – user541686
    Commented Aug 14, 2020 at 18:32
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    @Narusan: I didn't actually think this q is an exact duplicate, as framed, although in my answer to the other one, I quoted the WHO giving their reason(s) back then why they were not exactly thrilled with the SARS-CoV-2 name. I do wonder, reading that again, if they don't regret being so sheepish about it... a more scary name might have convinced some nations' leadership to take it more seriously, perhaps... Commented Aug 15, 2020 at 8:37

1 Answer 1


Disease are officially named by the WHO, while viruses are by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).

The WHO has stated

From a risk communications perspective, using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003.

For that reason and others, WHO has begun referring to the virus as “the virus responsible for COVID-19” or “the COVID-19 virus” when communicating with the public. Neither of these designations are intended as replacements for the official name of the virus as agreed by the ICTV.


Both the disease and the virus have been officially named February 11th 2020, while it has been declared a pandemic by the WHO only March 11th 2020. In hindsight, it is debatable whether „using the name SARS[-2] can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations“ is true and whether this fear would have been „unnecessary“. But this is the reason we ended up with a different nomenclature of the disease and the virus.

It might also be worth pointing out that many viruses are not named similar to their respective diseases: HIV <-> AIDS; HPV <-> Cervical Cancer / Genital warts


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