How do Viruses get their Names?


virus namesWhy do viruses, and the diseases they cause, often have different names?

Viruses are named by ICTV (International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses) based on their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines.

Diseases are named by WHO (World Health Organisation) to enable discussion on disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment.

Here is the list of recent viruses and the reason behind its name.


Initially called “2019 novel coronavirus”, the virus responsible for COVID-19 was eventually named ‘Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)’ by the ICTV as it is genetically related to the coronavirus responsible for the SARS outbreak in 2003.

The disease caused by SARS-CoV-2 is called the coronavirus disease or COVID-19.


The Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus or MERS-CoV is a novel coronavirus causing a viral respiratory disease, first identified in Saudi Arabia in 2012.

As per WHO, studies show that humans are infected with the virus through direct or indirect contact with infected dromedary camels.


 As per WHO, the Ebola virus disease first appeared in 1976 in two simultaneous outbreaks. One of them occurred in the Democratic Republic of Congo, in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.

Fruit bats of the Pteropodidae family are thought to be the natural Ebola virus hosts.


As per CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the name of the virus originated from Sungai Nipah, a village in the Malaysian Peninsula, where pig farmers became ill with encephalitis during an outbreak in 1999.

The virus can be transmitted to humans from animals like bats or pigs and in May 2018, a Nipah virus disease (NiV) outbreak was reported from two districts in Kerala, India.


H1N1 is a type of influenza A virus which is divided into subtypes based on two proteins on the virus surface: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N).

Swine flu is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by type A influenza viruses which on being detected in humans are called ‘variant viruses’ such as H1N1v.


H5N1 is a type of influenza virus that causes an infectious respiratory disease in birds called avian influenza or bird flu.

Avian influenza viruses normally circulate among birds and infections in human have been associated with direct or indirect contact with infected birds.


The Human Immunodeficiency Virus or HIV is known to cause AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome) in Humans and has led to more than 32 million deaths so far, as per WHO estimates.

The virus gradually makes patients immunodeficiency, by targeting the body’s immune system and weakening their defence systems against infections and some type of cancer.

Also Read: What is the Corona/ Covid-19 Virus Really Teaching us?

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