Virology Division News
Virology Division News
Arch Virol 144/9 (1999)
Abbreviations for vertebrate virus species names
C. M. Fauquet
and C. R. Pringle
ILTAB/Danforth Plant Science Center, University of Missouri, St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.
Biological Sciences Department, University of Warwick, Coventry, U.K.
Plant virologists have taken the initiative in the development of a standardized system of
abbreviation of virus names in response to the particular problems associated with the
naming of plant viruses [1–3]. There is now a compelling case for extending these efforts
to embrace all viruses irrespective of their host organisms. Increasing awareness of the
diversity of viruses and greater reliance on storage of information in electronic databases
call for standardization of abbreviations to avoid ambiguity. The accurate recovery of
information from databases is dependent on the existence of unique abbreviations for
virus names. For example, the species name Hepatitis C virus is often abbreviated to
HCV in the titles of papers and currently approximately 20% of the publications in the
Medline database can only be accessed using the abbreviation rather than the virus name.
Fortunately in this case there is no significant overlap. In other cases there can be
confusion. For example, the abbreviation RSV is not unique and a database search will
recover papers on Rous sarcoma virus, Rice stripe virus, Human respiratory syncytial
virus and Bovine respiratory syncytial virus. In its 7th Report  the International
Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV) has recommended the use of RSV for Rous
sarcoma virus on grounds of historical priority, and HuRSV and BRSV for human and
bovine respiratory syncytial viruses respectively. Although the overlap with Rice stripe
virus remains unresolved, in practice it causes little confusion. However, it would be
better if the overlap did not exist.
There are now some 4,000 virus names listed by the ICTV and without some conven-
tions it will become increasingly difficult to devise unique abbreviations for every virus.
This list of receoomended abbreviations for vertebrate virus species names is being
published as a reference document to diminish the risk of duplication when new abbrevia-
tions are proposed.
Although the ICTV is responsible for controlling, approving and recording the names
of virus taxa and has a formal International Code  that guides this activity, it has no
constitutional responsibility for assigning abbreviations. Nonetheless it does assign a
recommended abbreviation for every virus name. It is obviously a desirable aim that a
standard abbreviation should be used for any particular virus in all publications.