Concerned about the inaccuracies and stigmas that names of illnesses can confer upon people, animals, regions and economies, the World Health Organization on Friday announced “best practices” for naming new human infectious diseases.
No more animal names like swine flu, monkey pox and mad cow. Avoid place names like Spanish flu, Rift Valley fever, West Nile virus, Lyme disease and Ebola (a river in the Democratic Republic of Congo).
Do not use people’s names like Chagas, Creutzfeldt-Jakob, Alzheimer and Lou Gehrig. And infectious maladies named after groups or occupations — Legionnaires’ disease and butcher’s wart — henceforth are out.
Concerned about the inaccuracies and stigmas that names of illnesses can confer upon people, animals, regions and economies, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday announced “best practices” for naming new human infectious diseases.
Under the WHO’s guidelines, a disease name should consist of a generic descriptive term based on symptoms (respiratory disease, watery diarrhea), who is afflicted (infant, juvenile, maternal), seasonality (summer, winter) and severity (mild, severe). The name can also include other factual elements like the environment (swamp, desert) and the year and month detected.
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Disease names, the WHO said, may not include geographic locations, people’s names, species of animal or food, references to culture, population, industry or occupation, and “terms that incite undue fear.”
Dr. Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director general for health security, cited as examples swine flu, which many people falsely feared was spread by pigs, and Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which may have originated in the Middle East but has spread around the world.
Old Lyme, Conn., for example, still suffers the aftereffects of a tick-borne disease that first sickened children and adults in the 1970s. It became known as Lyme disease, although it was subsequently found nationwide.