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WHO wants socially acceptable disease names

New human diseases should be given socially acceptable names which do not offend people and countries or mention animals, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said.

BBC News reports it has produced advice for scientists and the media on choosing names. The WHO says Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Spanish Flu are examples of what to avoid because they mention specific locations.
Instead, names should contain generic terms that are "easy to pronounce".

The WHO said several new human infectious diseases had emerged in recent years and some had stigmatised certain cultures, regions and economies. Dr Keiji Fukuda, assistant director general for health security at the WHO, said: "This may seem like a trivial issue to come, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected." Fukuda said certain disease names had created a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities. They had also put up barriers to travel, commerce and trade, he added, and in some cases triggered the needless slaughtering of animals. "This can have serious consequences for people's lives and livelihoods."

The WHO has listed a number of best practices for naming new diseases which have not been "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 report says that the advice adds that any acronyms for longer names should be checked.

[link url="http://www.bbc.com/news/health-32655030"]Full BBC News report[/link]
[link url="http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/163636/1/WHO_HSE_FOS_15.1_eng.pdf?ua=1"]WHO best practice advice[/link]

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