Bacteria, Viruses, and Protists

Virus Basics

Why do noroviruses have so many names?

Yes, a new coronavirus, MERS-CoV (CoV is for “coronavirus”), was announced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2013—one that seemed to have started around early 2012. The new virus was different from any other known human coronavirus, including the one that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Considered a worldwide disease—thought to have originated from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries (to date, no cases have been reported in the United States)—it is known to pass from human to human, causing severe respiratory illness.

Noroviruses have been around for a long time—thus they have been referred to by many names, usually based on the region in which an outbreak occurs. The first norovirus was probably noticed in 1929 by American pediatrician John Zahorsky (1871–1963); it was called the “winter vomiting disease.” Another bad gastrointestinal outbreak occurred in Norwalk, Ohio in 1968, and the virus was named the Norwalk agent (also the Norwalk-like virus, or NLV; small, round-structured virus, or SRSV; and even Snow Mountain virus). And after genetic studies, it was classified as a member of the viral family Caliciviridae (a single strand of RNA for its genome); by 2002, the official name of the genus became Norovirus. One of the more recent norovirus outbreaks occurred in 2012 called GII.4 Sydney—it began in Australia and has since spread to the United States and other countries.


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