How do viruses take their names


The source Translation for Mixstuff – Igor Abramov

Most likely, recently you had to read a lot about viruses, and at the same time, you probably noticed that some of them have many names – official scientific names and informal, so to speak, “popular” ones. However, where do they come from? Well, let’s try to find out. You can find information on the BBC Future website that the official scientific name of the virus has been established by the International Committee on Taxonas of Virus. Members of the committee select this based on proposals from scientists who are researching a new virus for classification based on morphology, namely size and shape, chemical composition and method of reproduction.

At the same time, it often happens that popular names start circulating in media and social networks before the virus gets its official name. These names, usually associated with countries or regions where they appear, are sometimes controversial or offensive. Here are some specific cases.


The epidemic, which has recently swept almost the entire world and now peaks in countries one after another, is the spread of a new type of coronavirus (formerly called “novelloconovirus”).

The virus was first detected in the Chinese city of Wuhan. Finally, the scientific community gave it the official name “Coronavirus-2 severe acute respiratory syndrome”. It is also known as SARS-CoV-2, reflecting the fact that the new virus is a close relative of the SARS virus, first discovered in Asia in 2003.

Like SARS, COV-2 causes a disease called COVID-19. However, part of the name SARS was excluded due to apprehensions of causing panic. Thus, in the final version, the official name resembles CoV-2.

However, by the time it appeared in official documents, all kinds of unscientific names, such as “Chinese virus” or “Wuhan flu”, were widely used in the press. They breed the tradition of not calling the virus too old, and thus smuggle racism, as the WHO statement states, “negatively impacts countries, their economies and people.”


Like the CoV-2, the flu, now widely known as H1N1, is actually a very long name: A / California / 04-2009 (H1N1). It complies with WHO regulations adopted in 1980, which determine the name of the virus according to the type of carrier, place of origin, line of differentiation, year of isolation, and type of protein antigen.

All this is indicated by letters and numbers. Here’s the transcript: This is a common type A flu, first detected in California, the fourth virus of this type that was isolated in 2009, and the characteristic proteins are type 1 hemagglutinin and type 1 neurominidase. Huh.

The flu has gained widespread fame as the “swine flu”, as it is similar to the viruses commonly found in pigs. Despite the fact that it was not transmitted to people by eating pork, the name “caused serious problems for farmers who faced a sharp drop in sales due to apprehensions about the virus. China, Russia and Ukraine Some countries, including some, banned the import of pork from Mexico, where, according to some suspicions, the infection killed 150 people.


This coronavirus is named for Middle East respiratory syndrome. In 2015 WHO assistant director general Drs. Keiji Fukuda commented on the organization’s decision to change the naming standards for the virus, saying it was negatively impacted by “branding”.

More specifically, when the virus is named after a particular place, it can cause people’s negative reactions to religious or ethnic communities, creating barriers to travel, trade and business, as well as May also slaughter livestock unnecessarily.


Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes a disease notorious for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), which currently affects 1.1 million people in the United States alone.

A sad story: When HIV first appeared in the eighties of the last century, it was mistakenly associated with homosexuality and even referred to as “gay immunity” or GRID. The publication Pacific Standard states that it contributed to “spreading profanity against homosexuals”, which continued until scientists discovered that the disease also affects heterosexuals and patients with hemophilia.

Unfortunately, according to BBC Future, the original name was not only offensive, but it “could have hampered congressional efforts to control the spread of the virus … because of” highly specific issues of rights and freedoms ” Was referred to as. ” HIV / AIDS is a disease that started as an epidemic and then developed into an epidemic.

Bird flu

Viruses that infect birds are rarely transmitted to humans. However, there are two types of bird flu that cause some concern. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one of them was first discovered in China in 2013 and received the Asian H7N9 name, and if completely – “Bird Flu A (Asian H7N9) of Asian origin”.

Its characteristic proteins, as the name suggests, are hemagglutinin and neurominidase. Another type of bird flu was first found in humans in 1997 and they had many remains in the following years. It is called the Asian highly pathogenic avian influenza A (H5N1), or abbreviated HPAIA (H5N1).

Ebola virus

When this particularly dangerous virus first appeared in 1976 in Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). Researchers at the Center for Disease Prevention and Control, who were looking for a suitable name for the virus, first decided that they could not, with clear discretion, name it “in honor of the small town” where it Was discovered so as not to create an undesirable bad name for the residents of this village.

They wanted to name him “Congo” after the river flowing near the city, but by that time the Crimean Congo hemorrhagic fever virus was already present. Therefore, it was decided to name the virus another river, Ebola.

The list of viruses was therefore added to the place of origin, including the West Nile virus discovered in 1937, the Koksaki virus discovered in 1948 (Koksaki is a small town in 19 states), the Marburg virus, discovered in 1967 ( Marburg – a city in Germany), the Hendra virus found in 1994 (Hendra is a suburb of the Australian city of Brisbane).


The virus, often referred to as the intestinal or stomach flu, also got its name from where it was first discovered in 1968 in Norwalk, Ohio – a group of schoolchildren suffering from massive vomiting-diarrhea. .

The name “norvirus” is currently used as a generic term for a group of related pathogens. This highly unpleasant intestinal infection is one of many diseases that are very easy to prevent. To do this, simply wash your hands thoroughly.



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