WHO seek to end “swine flu” naming approach for new diseases

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has called for a change to the naming of new human infectious diseases, avoiding the invention of such terms as “swine flu”, the use of which can have unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people.

“In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged and the use of names such as “swine flu” have had unintended negative impacts by stigmatising certain communities or economic sectors,” said WHO assistant director-general for health security, Dr Keiji Fukuda.

“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, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger the needless slaughtering of food animals. This can have serious consequences for peoples’ lives and livelihoods.”

WHO added that diseases are often given common names by people outside of the scientific community and that once disease names are established in common usage they are difficult to change, no matter how inappropriate they may be.

In order to help name diseases more appropriately from now on, WHO has drawn up a “best practices” guide which will link new disease names with their generic description, symptoms, severity or seasonality and the pathogen that has caused them.

In step with this move, WHO said it would like to avoid any future links between disease names and either animals or foods, putting an end to such inventions as swine flu, bird flu and monkey pox.

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