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What is the difference between coronavirus vs. COVID-19?

2 min read
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Coronavirus Illustration

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows the common shape of a coronavirus.

By staff and wire reports

Several different terms are being used when officials talk about the coronavirus illness outbreak and the Oregon victim who worked in a Lake Oswego school. What is the difference between coronavirus and COVID-19?

For instance, news reports about the Washington state resident who died said he died “of COVID-19.” But people have become much more familiar with the name “coronavirus.”


According to the World Health Organization, COVID-19 is the name of the illness caused by the coronavirus. The coronavirus at issue in the recent world outbreak also has a specific name: severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 or, abbreviated, SARS-CoV-2. That’s a bit unwieldy to say, for sure. The name was chosen because this virus is related to the coronavirus that was responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003. But the two viruses, while related genetically, are in fact different.

Viruses and the diseases they cause often have different names. Think rubeola (the virus) and measles (the disease).

There actually is a global organization that names viruses: the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. A new strain of virus that has not been seen before is referred to as “novel.” That’s why you also see references to the “novel coronavirus.” Coronaviruses themselves are relatively common and are responsible for the common cold.

Most infections from this new coronavirus result in mild symptoms, including coughing and fever, though some can become more serious and lead to pneumonia. Older people, especially those with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disease, are especially vulnerable. Health officials think it spreads mainly from droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes, similar to how the flu spreads.

The COVID-19 cases of unknown origin marks an escalation of the worldwide outbreak in the U.S. because it means the virus could spread beyond the reach of preventative measures like quarantines.


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