In virus outbreak, fretting over a name that might go viral

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Chinatopix

FILE - In this Feb. 4, 2020, file photo, a worker walks among beds in a convention center that has been converted into a temporary hospital in Wuhan in central China's Hubei Province. Health officials hope to avoid stigma and error in naming the virus causing an international outbreak of respiratory illnesses. But some researchers say the current moniker, 2019 nCoV, which stands for 2019 novel coronavirus, probably won't stick in the public's mind. (Chinatopix via AP)

NEW YORK, N.Y. – West Nile virus, Lyme disease, Ebola virus.

And now: 2019-nCoV?

“Just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it?” said Trevor Hoppe, a researcher at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who has studied the history of disease names.

The name, which stands for 2019 novel coronavirus, has been assigned to the virus behind the outbreak of flu-like illnesses that started in China late last year.

Scientists are still learning about the new virus, so it's hard to come up with a good name, Hoppe said. The current one is likely temporary, said Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Once people have a chance to catch their breath, it might be changed," Messonnier said.

Many media outlets have been skipping the clunky 2019-nCoV and just calling it the new virus or new coronavirus, which isn't very specific. Coronavirus is the umbrella term for a large group of viruses, including ones that can cause the common cold.

Since the outbreak is centered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, others have been using Wuhan virus or Wuhan coronavirus or even Wuhan flu — even though flu is an entirely different virus.