SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19: What’s the Difference?


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SARS-CoV-2 is the official scientific name of the virus that causes the disease COVID-19.

When we get infected with SARS-CoV-2, we can get sick with COVID-19, which stands for Coronavirus Disease 2019.

When you are sick with COVID-19, you may have fever, chills, cough, difficulty breathing, and other symptoms.

How We Use the Terms SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19  

COVID-19 is the term we most often use to talk about the pandemic.

We use SARS-CoV-2 when we talk about the virus and what it does in the body to make people sick.

“In healthcare, you may see SARS-CoV-2 on test results, which are often recorded by the official name of the virus,” said Dr. Abigail Carlson, an infectious diseases physician with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), as part of CDC Project Firstline’s Inside Infection Control video series. “You might also see SARS-CoV-2 when people talk about the COVID-19 vaccine.”

In infection control, we often use the name of the virus because our actions are targeted at stopping the spread of the virus.

The names we use to talk about the COVID-19 pandemic are similar to how we talk about other diseases, like chickenpox. The name of the virus that causes chickenpox, varicella-zoster virus (VZV), is different from the name of the disease it causes.

As a virus like SARS-CoV-2 spreads, it can mutate and change — these changes are known as variants, such as the Delta and Omicron variants. New variants of viruses are common.

Fortunately, the strategies healthcare workers use for infection control are designed to work regardless of the variant, Dr. Carlson said.

“The tools that we use for infection control work. And the way they work for COVID-19 hasn’t changed,” she said. “It’s all the more important to keep using those tools in the right way at the right time to prevent the virus from spreading, including any of these new virus strains.”

What Can You Do to Promote Infection Control in Your Healthcare Setting?

Any person can be exposed to COVID-19. Latinos face disproportionate rates of cases and deaths.

That’s why it’s important for all healthcare workers to access more information about infection prevention and control in healthcare by visiting resources from CDC Project Firstline.

Project Firstline creates resources, including videos and shareable images, web buttons, posters, and print materials. They also have facilitator toolkits to help workers lead trainings even if they are not an infection control expert.

Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio is working with the National Hispanic Medical Association to bring Project Firstline infection control educational content to healthcare workers, so they are equipped with the knowledge they need to protect themselves, their facilities, and their patients (Latinos and all communities) from infectious disease threats in healthcare settings.

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“Healthcare teams in hospitals, nursing homes, and other care settings are the front lines against the spread of infection,” said Dr. Amelie G. Ramirez, director of Salud America! at UT Health San Antonio. “CDC’s Project Firstline is bolstering those efforts by developing evidence-based tools that can be delivered in a variety of ways to make infection control learning convenient and accessible for busy healthcare staff.”

Learn More about Project Firstline!

 Editor’s Note: This article is part of a collaboration between Salud America!, the National Hispanic Medical Association, and the CDC’s Project Firstline. To find resources training materials, and other tools to bolster knowledge and practice of infection control, visit Project Firstline and view Salud America!’s infection control content.


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