Confusion about coronavirus types 
Compiled by Walter Sorochan Emeritus Professor San Diego State University

Posted:  May 3, 2020; Disclaimer The statements have not been evaluated by the FDA or Health Canada. The information provided on this site is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any condition or disease.

Coronaviruses didn’t just pop up recently. They’re a large family of viruses that have been around for a long time. Many of them can make people ill with sniffles or coughing. Before the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak, coronaviruses were thought to cause only mild respiratory infections in people.

The new [or “novel”] coronavirus is one of several known to infect humans. It’s probably been around for some time in animals. Sometimes, a virus in animals crosses over into people. That’s what scientists think happened here. So this virus isn’t new to the world, but it is new to humans. When this latest infection was first reported in China, experts were calling it the "2019 novel coronavirus," the virus name was meant to mean simply a new coronavirus that had not been previously identified. As time went on, health officials identified it as COVID-19 and now, come up with a more precise label, SARS-CoV-2. 

Because there are many coronavirus types, referring to it simply as "coronavirus" is very general. The CDC and World Health Organization [WHO] encourage experts to use COVID-19 when referring to this new disease, a novel or new coronavirus that has not previously been seen in humans.

The terms below help to explain the different words used with coronavirus:

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Novel coronavirus implies a new disease that is another term for COVID-19.

COVID-19 is the disease, not the virus. CO means Corona, VI is Virus, D is disease, 19 is the year it was first discovered.

SARS-COV2 is the name of the virus that attacks your body and causes the disease COVID-19. Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2, shortened to SARS-CoV-2, is actually the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

SARS-CoV or the long name SARS-associated coronavirus, caused an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002-2003; however it is not the same as SARS-CoV-2.

SARS-CoV-2 is the formal name of the infectious one and it is different from covid-19 and novel cornonavirus. SARS-CoV-2 causes COVID-19.  If you have coronavirus, then you probably will not be extremely sick unless you are elderly or have an underlying condition.

But if you develop COVID-19 after you have had SARS-Co-2, then you are in serious risk of death.

How do all these terms fit together? "Coronavirus" is a generic term that includes a large family of viruses, similar to saying someone has the flu. SARS-CoV-2 is a specific virus that can cause COVID-19, a disease.

There are seven different types of coronavirus. The one causing the pandemic and most concern in United States, Canada and the rest of the world, is SARS-CoV-2. The confusion arises when newspaper, TV reporters and TV specialists talk about coronavirus as if all seven were the same. Reporters and talk show panelists talk as if they know what they are talking about .... but obviously they do not when they mix the terms up. Therein lies the problem! Unless the coronavirus is identified explicitly, then no one really knows which part of the virus is being reported. There is a lot of sugar coating going on to cover up misstating, not understanding and saving face. Meanwhile the general public becomes confused by the poor reporting!

So what is the virus that is infecting the world in 2020?

Human Coronavirus Types:

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], there are actually multiple types of coronaviruses, some of which commonly cause mild upper-respiratory tract illnesses. There are seven types of coronavirus that infect humans, three of which evolved from animal strains.

Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. There are four main sub-groupings of coronaviruses, known as alpha, beta, gamma, and delta.

Human coronaviruses were first identified in the mid-1960s. The seven coronaviruses that can infect people are:

Common human coronaviruses

People around the world commonly get infected with human coronaviruses 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1.

Sometimes coronaviruses that infect animals can evolve and make people sick and become a new human coronavirus. Three recent examples of this are 2019-nCoV, SARS-CoV, and MERS-CoV.

Since this article is hoping to clarify the different coronavirus terms, it is worthwhile to illustrate the virus, what it would looks like theoretically  under a high power microscope on the left and its characteristics on the right.

Coronavirus 2 2

It is the yellow colored crown shaped spikes, glycoprotein, on the outside of the virus, that connect with the lungs to cause inflammation of the lung alveoli. The SARS-COV2 virus attacks the Type 2 Lymphocytes in your lungs, destroys the surfactant [lipids and proteins protecting your alveoli] which allows liquid, puss, debris, dirt, etc into the alveoli or air pockets in your lungs. Then, the virus begins to replicate in the alveoli. As the virus begins to multiply, your lungs get heavier and heavier because they are being filled with liquid, making it more difficult to breathe.

SARS2-Co-2 Observation: We do not know everything about this virus. We are slowly learning and this takes time to unfold.; how this virus behaves in the body.  Why do some persons get it and others do not? Why some persons are infected but have no symptoms. And why are older persons more susceptible than middle aged or younger ones? One reason may be biochemistry in that body chemistry differs from person to person: we have different chemical types of antibodies, we may have already been infected, showed no symptoms, did not know it and thereby developed some degree of natural immunity. The expression "one shoe size does not fit all persons" is applicable to immunity and viruses.  Medical doctors usually overlook the affect of nutrition and how well one eats that bolsters the immune system. Research now recognizes that there may be two strains of the same coronavirus; e.g., one that came from Europe to New York and another that came from China to western United States. These and other unknown factors can create variability to infection. Mind you, these a good guesses that medical experts do not want to discuss nor consider.

Politicians are hoping and experts are telling us that a vaccine is just around the corner and may be available by this summer in an attempt to soften the burden of lockdown drudgery and faltering expectation. But viruses are very intelligent and seem to know how to survive by mutating into another form. Virologists are also pointing out that a vaccine may only be effective for 30 to 50 percent of the population. Tests do not as yet identify which strain of coronavirus one has. So we will then need to develop a second vaccine for the 50% of the population that the initial vaccine does not help. Yes, experts may deny this but such possibility is better than speculation, for no one really knows how SARS2-Co-2 really works or behaves over time. Viruses often mutate when they are exposed to antibiotics or other threats.  So keep your fingers crossed and don't raise your hopes too high.


CDC, "Human coronavirus types," Communicable Disease Center. May 2, 2020.  CDC: coronavirus types

Healthline, "COVID-19 vs. SARS: How Do They Differ?," HealthLine, April 2, 2020.  Healthline: Sars differences 2020

Lu Roujian, Xiang Zhao, Juan Li, Peihua Niu, Bo Yang, Honglong Wu, et al., "Genomic characterisation and epidemiology of 2019 novel coronavirus: implications for virus origins and receptor binding," The Lancet,Volume 395, ISSUE 10224, P565-574, January 30, 2020.  Lu: Novel coronavirus characteristics 2020