Stuart Siddell (ICTV Vice President) and Andrew Davison (ICTV President) discuss the importance of virus taxonomy, classification, and naming in this International Science Council blog post.
The virus causing the current outbreak of coronavirus disease has been named "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" (SARS-CoV-2). The manuscript describing the name also reports the work of the ICTV Coronaviridae Study Group (ICTV-CSG) that determined the virus belongs to the existing species, Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus.
The International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) is concerned with the designation and naming of virus taxa (i.e. species, genus, family, etc.) rather than the designation of virus common names or disease names. For an outbreak of a new viral disease, there are three names to be decided: the disease, the virus and the species. The World Health Organization (WHO) is responsible for the first, expert virologists for the second, the ICTV for the third.
WHO guidelines for naming of new human diseases can be found at "WHO issues best practices for naming new human infectious diseases" and "WHO Best Practices for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases" The following article may also be of interest:"Naming diseases: First do no harm"
As experts on coronaviruses, the ICTV Coronaviridae Study Group has studied the classification (taxonomy) of the new virus. And given that they are experts on this family of viruses, they have also contributed their expertise to the naming of the virus. The virus name is "severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2" (SARS-CoV-2). And the species to which the virus SARS-CoV-2 belongs is Severe acute respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus.
The disease name (which in many cases is different from the virus name) has been designated as COVID-19 by the WHO. The '19' in COVID-19 stands for the year, 2019, that the virus was first seen. The number '19' has nothing whatsoever to do with virus strains, genotypes, or anything else related to the virus' genetics. The virus name was announced by the World Health Organization on February 11, 2020. See the February 11 World Health Organization Situation Report. This clearly states that "WHO has named the disease COVID-19, short for 'coronavirus disease 2019'.”
For previous news announcements, please see https://talk.ictvonline.org/information/w/news
The new 2019 ICTV taxonomy is now available online at https://ictv.global/taxonomy. The new Master Species List #35 is available for download as an Excel Spreadsheet.
This new release contains taxonomic changes approved by the ICTV membership in March, 2020. A paper describing this release is being prepared for publication in the Virology Division News section of Archives of Virology.
Official taxonomy proposals documenting all of the taxonomic changes approved by the ICTV since the publication of the ICTV 8th Report can be found at https://ictv.global/Official_ICTV_Proposals.htm.
The Virus Metadata Resource (VMR) is a downloadable spreadsheet that provides information on exemplar viruses for each species. This information includes GenBank and RefSeq accession numbers for exemplar viruses and isolate and common names for viruses belonging to a species. The most recent VMR release adds information on the known categories of hosts infected by the virus or the source environment from which the virus was isolated. New VMR Release posted May 1, 2020.
ICTV welcomes taxonomic proposals from any interested individual. To submit a proposal, download and complete the relevant parts of the proposal template and e-mail it to the appropriate subcommittee chair (Animal DNA Viruses and Retroviruses, Animal dsRNA and ssRNA- Viruses, Animal ssRNA+ Viruses, Bacterial and Archaeal Viruses, Fungal and Protist Viruses, or Plant viruses).
The article, "Why virus taxonomy is important", published in Microbiology Today by Stuart Siddell, ICTV Vice President, discusses the importance of virus taxonomy and its role in helping to define the evolutionary relationships between viruses and understand the consequences of virus diversity.
An article appearing in the Nucleic Acids Research 2018 Database issue, "Virus taxonomy: the database of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV)" describes the ICTV database and the web-based tools available to query that database: Lefkowitz EJ, Dempsey DM, Hendrickson RC, Orton RJ, Siddell SG, Smith DB. Nucleic Acids Res. 2017 Oct 13. doi: 10.1093/nar/gkx932. PubMed PMID: 29040670.
ICTV gratefully acknowledges financial support from the American Society for Virology, Microbiology Society, the Virology Division of IUMS, and Wellcome. ICTV also very gratefully acknowledges the support it receives from all its Executive Committee members, Study Group members and National Representatives who volunteer a huge amount of their time and financial support to ensure that ICTV continues to function for the good of virology. We would also like to thank Donald Dempsey and Curtis Hendrickson from the University of Alabama at Birmingham for their work on the development of the web site and taxonomy database.