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How Do We Name Infectious Diseases? Nothing Offensive Please, Recommends WHO

10 May 2015, 2:00 am EDT By Rhodi Lee Tech Times
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WHO has come up with a best practice guide for naming new infectious disease. The goal is to prevent unnecessary and serious impacts on nations, people and economies.  ( FaceMePLS | Flickr )

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called on national authorities, scientists and media on Friday to observe best practices when it comes to naming new human infectious diseases.

The United Nations agency said that giving socially acceptable names that do not mention animals and are not offensive to people and countries would minimize unwanted effects on nations, people and economies.

WHO noted that new human infectious diseases have surfaced in recent years and some of these have stigmatized regions, cultures and economies. It said that the Spanish Flu, Rift Valley fever and the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome are just examples of what needs to be avoided because these diseases mention specific locations.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO's Assistant Director-General for Health Security, said that this may seem to be a trivial issue but the names of diseases really matter to those who are directly impacted. Fukuda said that they have seen some names of diseases that have provoked backlash against members of some ethnic and religious communities as well as affected commerce, trade and travel. It also led to the unwanted killings of animals which impacted the livelihoods and lives of some people.

WHO said that the name of a disease can be difficult to change once it is established in common usage so it is crucial that the person who first reports on new disease should consider using an appropriate name that is not just scientifically sound but socially acceptable as well.

Among the best practices for naming new syndromes, infections and diseases include the use of generic descriptive terms that are based on the disease's symptoms. Examples include neurologic syndrome and water diarrhea. Use of more specific descriptive terms such as severe, progressive, juvenile and winter which could provide information on who the disease affects, its severity and seasonality and how it manifests is also recommended. The pathogen of the disease, if known, should also be included in the name of the disease (e.g salmonella, influenza virus).

Besides using geographic locations, WHO also discourages using people's names such as in the case of the Chagas disease and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease; food and species of animals such as in the case of the monkey pox. The use of terms that could raise unnecessary fear such as fatal, unknown and epidemic is also discouraged.

"The new best practices do not replace the existing ICD system, but rather provide an interim solution prior to the assignment of a final ICD disease name," WHO said.

Photo: FaceMePLS | Flickr

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