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Don't Name New Human Infectious Diseases After Animals Or Places, Says WHO: Here's Why

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The World Health Organization doesn't want researchers and scientists naming newly discovered diseases and ailments using any people names or locations, as the practice can prove negative in either scenario.

The global organization is urging the research, scientific, governmental and media industries to follow some best practices regarding the naming of new human infectious ailments as naming conventions have proven to be unnecessarily negative to the name or geographic location.

"In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as 'swine flu' and 'Middle East Respiratory Syndrome' has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors," explains Dr. Keiji Fukuda, assistant director-general for health security, WHO.

Fukuda says there may be a normal inclination to dismiss the WHO's naming advisory but it's a real issue that has brought backlash to groups and communities.

"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 peoples' lives and livelihoods," claims Fukuda.

In most cases a disease or ailment ends up getting a name from the media coverage and now, increasingly, through social networks. Sometimes the name does not aptly describe the condition or disease. That's why human diseases require a legitimate and appropriate descriptor, one which will be scientifically and socially acceptable.

For example, the name should include a generic descriptor (i.e., respiratory, watery diarrhea) based on the symptoms the disease causes and also more specific terms (i.e., severe) if necessary, based on how it shows, who it affects and whether it is severe or seasonal (e.g., progressive, winter). And if the pathogen that causes it is known, WHO suggests that should be part of the disease name (e.g., coronavirus, salmonella).

Words and terms that should be avoided are those in various geographic areas such as stating "Middle East" flu or something like bird flu or monkey pox.

The new naming guidelines were created by WHO, the World Organization for Animal Health, and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, as well as the International Classification of Diseases.

While the International Classification of Diseases makes the final determination on the name for new infectious diseases, it's hard to pin on a more scientifically sound name once the media or social network buzz has termed it something not within the guidelines, notes WHO.

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