THE World Health Organization (WHO, 世界衛生組織) has called for a rethink on naming new human diseases, saying names like swine flu or Rift Valley fever risk stigmatising communities and damaging economies.
“This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected,” said Keiji Fukuda (福田敬二), WHO’s assistant director-general for health security.
“We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for people’s lives and livelihoods.”
WHO issued guidelines for the naming of new human infectious diseases to minimise any negative impact. Terms to be avoided include geographic locations such as Middle East (中東) respiratory syndrome or Spanish (西班牙) flu, people’s names as in Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and animals such as bird flu or monkey pox. Cultural or occupational references are also not recommended, as are words that incite undue fear like ‘fatal’ and ‘epidemic’.
Diseases are often given common names, which quickly gain currency as they spread via the internet and social media, WHO said. Once they are in use they are hard to change.
“It is important that whoever first reports on a newly identified human disease uses an appropriate name that is scientifically sound and socially acceptable,” WHO added.
The guidelines say a name should consist of generic descriptive terms based on the relevant symptoms such as respiratory disease, neurologic syndrome or watery diarrhoea. More specific descriptions like progressive, juvenile, severe or winter can also be included. The pathogen that causes the disease should be part of the name if it is known, for example, coronavirus or salmonella.
(Reuters, 8 May 2015)
International Classification of Diseases
World Health Organization