Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) UPDATES
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The University of Iowa is committed to the safety and well-being of its students, faculty, and staff. This website will be updated regularly with information regarding the university's preparation and response to COVID-19.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold, in people. However, three times in the 21st century coronavirus outbreaks have emerged from animal reservoirs to cause severe disease and global transmission concerns.
There are hundreds of coronaviruses, most of which circulate among animals including pigs, camels, bats and cats. Sometimes those viruses jump to humans—called a spillover event—and can cause disease. Seven coronaviruses are known to cause human disease, four of which are mild: viruses 229E, OC43, NL63 and HKU1. Three of the coronaviruses can have more serious outcomes in people, and those diseases are SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) which emerged in late 2002 and disappeared by 2004; MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome), which emerged in 2012 and remains in circulation in camels; and COVID-19, which emerged in December 2019 from China and a global effort is under way to contain its spread. COVID-19 is caused by the coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2.
Thanks to research investments into the SARS and MERS outbreaks, NIAID scientists and grantees are better prepared to develop diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines against COVID-19. Included in those projects are basic research to understand how the virus infects cells and causes disease; adapting platforms used to develop diagnostic tests and vaccines; and evaluating treatments such as broad-spectrum antivirals and potentially monoclonal antibodies.
In fact, within two weeks of the discovery of COVID-19, NIAID researchers had determined how the virus enters cells.
Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it
Official names have been announced for the virus responsible for COVID-19 (previously known as “2019 novel coronavirus”) and the disease it causes. The official names are:
severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2
Why do the virus and the disease have different names?
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).
There are different processes, and purposes, for naming viruses and diseases.
Viruses are named based on their genetic structure to facilitate the development of diagnostic tests, vaccines and medicines. Virologists and the wider scientific community do this work, so viruses are named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV).
Diseases are named to enable discussion on disease prevention, spread, transmissibility, severity and treatment. Human disease preparedness and response is WHO’s role, so diseases are officially named by WHO in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD).
ICTV announced “severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)” as the name of the new virus on 11 February 2020. 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.
WHO announced “COVID-19” as the name of this new disease on 11 February 2020, following guidelines previously developed with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
- WHO Director-General's remarks at the media on 11 February 2020
- WHO Situation Report on 11 February 2020