Tuesday, 7 May 2013

It's an nHCoV, its an EMC...no...its MERS?

It was an unusual move that apparently required "a great deal of effort to find a name that all parties involved could agree on". Avian Flu Diary reports on a ScienceInsider article noting that the Coronavirus Study Group will propose an entirely new name for the latest human coronavirus type that seems to cause respiratory disease in humans and belongs to a new coronavirus species. 

Usually the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) doesn't fiddle around with naming below the level of species and the new human coronavirus type seems to be part of a group of viruses (including bat coronaviruses) that together will likely form a novel species. Do the bat viruses also cause respiratory syndrome in humans...or other animals? There is likely to be some (more) confusion caused by this name change, and it is very possible that the press will not strictly adhere to the new name any more than the old one (an argument that supports either side of the debate).

So far the virus has been called novel coronavirus (NCOV-a name that never should have stuck-what do we call the next one....more novel CoV?) and in the scientific, peer-reviewed literature, HCoV-EMC after the laboratory that characterized the virus (Erasmus Medical Center). Still, its only about 8 months since we learned of the first case subsequently attributed to this virus in Sept 2012 (the patient presented in June 2012). How big could the body of literature be on EMC at this point? Apparently its 23 papers strong according to PubMED.

The new name for the disease and the virus group will change to MERS-CoV (Middle East respiratory syndrome). It will next go before the ICTV for ratification.