Although the word 'coronavirus' is often used as a blanket term for the illness that is rapidly spreading around the world - declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO) on March 11 - the term is frequently used loosely. Here is a run-down of the differences as explained by the WHO.
What is a coronavirus then?
Coronavirus is, in fact, the name for a family of viruses that also include the common cold. Many strains of coronavirus are mild and have been known about for some time, while others are more severe - namely Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). Both the latter two were new this century, with SARS affecting Asia in 2003, and MERS first identified in 2012.
The particular strain that has caused such global disruption this year is new to human beings, and was discovered in Wuhan in China in December last year.
This particular strain is actually called SARS-CoV-2
This is the specific name of the virus strain that is causing the pandemic at the moment. It is by far the least commonly used term relating to the outbreak.
It was originally called "2019 novel coronavirus" - or new coronavirus - until it was officially named by the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses. SARS-CoV-2 stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.
You rarely see it referenced outside of medical reports. As the WHO explains, it is quite common to know the name of a disease, but not the name of the virus that caused it.
They also openly say they are actively trying to avoid using the name of the virus species.
This is why in their own words:
"Using the name SARS can have unintended consequences in terms of creating unnecessary fear for some populations, especially in Asia which was worst affected by the SARS outbreak in 2003. For that reason and others, WHO has begun referring to the virus as "the virus responsible for COVID-19" or "the COVID-19 virus" when communicating with the public."
So, what is COVID-19?
This is the illness that the virus causes. If we are being technical, you would say SARS-CoV-2 (the species of virus) gives you COVID-19 (the illness) - the World Health Organisation explains it as being the same way you would say that HIV gives you AIDS.
Of course, it does sound very technical and medical, so it is perhaps no wonder that people are sticking with coronavirus as a broad term.
It should perhaps also be stressed how new this is. One indication is that COVID-19 was not even officially named by the WHO until last month - so again, it is little surprise that the wider population is yet to get to grips with the terminology.
So does the COVID-19 illness actually do to you?
Reactions and severity vary widely between age-groups and different populations. Many younger children barely seem to suffer - and certainly are at much less risk than other age groups. Broadly speaking it is more likely to cause chronic illness among older people, who have a much higher mortality rate if they contract it.
In essence, the illness affects your lungs and airways, causing fever, fatigue as well as a dry cough. Other symptoms of COVID-19 may include aches and pains, being blocked up, a runny nose, as well as a sore throat or diarrhoea.
Those with pre-existing medical problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, are also considered more at risk.
See how confirmed cases have increased in Australia
Is there a cure?
This, of course, is the big problem. There is no vaccine for COVID-19 at the moment. People can take paracetamol to alleviate fevers, or in the most severe cases, they can go for emergency treatment in hospitals.
However, until an effective vaccine is developed and widely distributed, governments around the world are likely to have to continue taking the unprecedented measures currently being seen to limit its spread.
Cases around the world
The World Health Organisation is a good place to start. The information here is likely to change and evolve over the next weeks and months. Understanding of the virus and how it affects humans is rapidly evolving. Given the extent of its impact, huge resources will be pumped into finding out more and working towards a vaccine.
If you are a resident of Victoria, also see the Department of Health and Human Services for up-to-date health advice.
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