POST Online Media Lite Edition



 

Be careful, you can insult pig if you have flu

Staff writer |
WHO called on scientists, national authorities and the media to follow best practices in naming new human infectious diseases in a politically correct way.

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"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," says Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security, WHO.

"This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected. We've seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities... This can have serious consequences for peoples' lives and livelihoods."

Diseases are often given common names by people outside of the scientific community. Once disease names are established in common usage through the internet and social media, they are difficult to change, even if an inappropriate name is being used.

"The best practices apply to new infections, syndromes, and diseases that have never been recognized or reported before in humans, that have potential public health impact, and for which there is no disease name in common usage. They do not apply to disease names that are already established," says WHO.

"Terms that should be avoided in disease names include geographic locations (e.g. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish Flu, Rift Valley fever), people's names (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), species of animal or food (e.g. swine flu, bird flu, monkey pox), cultural, population, industry or occupational references (e.g. legionnaires), and terms that incite undue fear (e.g. unknown, fatal, epidemic)."

It is true that WHO was under pressure to change some names, such was the case with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, however nobody sane hates the Middle East because of that, and it's not clear who on Earth would be insulted by swine or chicken flu when we all know origins of those names.

It is also not clear why "Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease" is something that should be avoided: this is a century-old practice that certainly wouldn't upset neither Hans Gerhard Creutzfeldt nor Alfons Maria Jakob if they were still alive.

It seems that WHO should focus on problem solving instead of breaking under political pressure.


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