A few months after the first known case was detected in Wuhan, China, and approximately three weeks after the first U.S. case was reported, on February 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially named the illness that would go on to cause a pandemic “coronavirus disease 2019,” shortened to the acronym COVID-19.
Often referred to as the “Wuhan virus” in its very early stages, and also “nCoV-2019,” WHO guidelines state that names for new infectious diseases may not include geographic locations, animals, individuals or groups of people and must be pronounceable. CO stands for corona, VI is for virus, D is for disease and 2019 represents the year it was first discovered.
“Having a name matters to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said during a media briefing announcing the name. “It also gives us a standard format to use for any future coronavirus outbreaks.”
Since its onset, COVID-19 rapidly spread to every continent. By early 2022, it resulted in roughly 750 million global cases and 6.8 million deaths, including more than 1 million deaths in the U.S. alone.
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