Defining terms: What’s the difference between coronavirus and COVID-19?

The terms used to describe the global pandemic that started in China in late 2019 can be confusing.

In the past week, people have seen reference to nCov19, nCov2019, NCP, Covid19, COVID-19, Wuhan virus and SARS-Co-V2.

Here’s a primer, according to those who write the Associated Press stylebook.

  • The virus that is spreading globally is called SARS-CoV-2.
  • The disease caused by this virus is COVID-19.
  • COVID is short for coronavirus disease.

The confusion is similar to how the terms HIV and AIDS were often used incorrectly a generation ago.

So, Sars-CoV-2 is the virus that can bring about COVID-19. Just as HIV is the virus that can bring about AIDS.

Here’s how the Associated Press stylebook explains it to journalists covering the story:

COVID-19 is acceptable on first reference for the coronavirus disease that first appeared in late 2019.

Because COVID-19 is the name of the disease, not the virus, it is not accurate to write a new virus called COVID-19.

Instead: It is accurate to say a new virus Sars-CoV-2 caused a disease called COVID-19.