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Government Medicine

World Health Organization Has New Rules For Avoiding Offensive Names 186

sciencehabit writes: Last week The World Health Organization (WHO) decided to address not only the physical toll of disease but the stigma inflicted by diseases named for people, places, and animals as well. Among the existing names that its new guidelines "for the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases" would discourage: Ebola, swine flu, Rift valley Fever, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and monkey pox. The organization suggests researchers, health officials, and journalists should use more neutral, generic terms, such as severe respiratory disease or novel neurologic syndrome instead. “It will certainly lead to boring names and a lot of confusion,” predicts Linfa Wang, an expert on emerging infectious diseases at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong. “You should not take political correctness so far that in the end no one is able to distinguish these diseases,” says Christian Drosten, a virologist at the University of Bonn, Germany.
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World Health Organization Has New Rules For Avoiding Offensive Names

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  • I understand avian flu wasn't the best idea since people feared birds. But what's wrong with Ebola?
    • Re:Ebola (Score:5, Informative)

      by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:14PM (#49667841)
      Ebola gets its name from a River in the Republic of Congo, despite the fact that it was not discovered in or on that river.
    • by Tailhook ( 98486 )

      The Ebola River for which the disease is named is sensitive and doesn't like having horrible diseases named after it.

      The best policy is to simply not name these sort of things until they appear in a Western nation somewhere. The media could refer to Ebola, for instance, as the Unidentified Tropical Wasting Syndrome until a nurse in Texas catches it, at which point may be named the Dallas Hemorrhagic Fever, or DHF.

      Far more equitable and highly unlikely to incur the wrath of WHO.

    • I understand avian flu wasn't the best idea since people feared birds. But what's wrong with Ebola?

      They also end up fearing Ricola.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]

    • Re:Ebola (Score:5, Funny)

      by arglebargle_xiv ( 2212710 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @11:42PM (#49670401)

      I understand avian flu wasn't the best idea since people feared birds. But what's wrong with Ebola?

      Oh come on, how ridiculous is that! Next thing you know we won't be able to say "porch monkey" any more. My grandmother used to call me a porch monkey all the time when I was a kid because I'd sit on the porch and stare at my neighbours. She was just an old timer, that's the way people talked back then! Didn't mean they were racist... Although my grandmother did refer to a broken beer bottle once as a nigger knife... You know, come to think of it, my grandmother was kind of a racist.

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:11PM (#49667815) Homepage
    Makes sense. You name a disease for a location and nobody wants to go there.

    You name a disease for a creature and it's open season on that creature - and the destroys any business that uses them.

    These things happen even if the location/creature is only tangentially related to the disease.

    But there is no reason not to name a disease after the first patient/doctor that gets/discovers it.

    Worst case scenario, they have to change their name.

    • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:19PM (#49667883) Journal

      Worst case scenario, they have to change their name.

      And everyone else who has that name.........

      Of course, the whole problem would be solved if we could rip people out of the dark ages and realize "swine flu" doesn't mean you should kill all the swine.....and "Hodgkins' disease" doesn't mean you should kill everyone named Hodgkins. Seriously, half the world still needs to grow up.

      • by TWX ( 665546 )
        Admittedly I have the privilege of having grown up in the first world, but I can't think of any examples of when a disease named after its discoverer led to more than juvenile word games for those who happened to share a name or a similar sounding name to the disease.
        • by phantomfive ( 622387 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:46PM (#49668073) Journal
          I believe the triggering incident here was swine flu, where pigs (owned mainly by christians, since muslims don't eat pork) were slaughtered because of fears of swine flu [huffingtonpost.com]. Quote:

          The Egyptian government began slaughtering pigs today as a preventative measure to stop the spread of the swine flu.... Over 300,000 pigs will be killed immediately despite no reported cases of the pandemic in the country.

          • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 11, 2015 @06:12PM (#49668281)

            I believe the triggering incident here was swine flu, where pigs (owned mainly by christians, since muslims don't eat pork) were slaughtered because of fears of swine flu

            So Muslims once again are behaving like ignorant savages. And for that the rest of us should dumb down and obfuscate our language. No. They need to drag themselves out of the seventh century and grow up.

            • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

              by nbauman ( 624611 )

              I believe the triggering incident here was swine flu, where pigs (owned mainly by christians, since muslims don't eat pork) were slaughtered because of fears of swine flu

              So Muslims once again are behaving like ignorant savages. And for that the rest of us should dumb down and obfuscate our language. No. They need to drag themselves out of the seventh century and grow up.

              Pamela Geller derangement syndrome.

          • by Whiteox ( 919863 )

            Way back when swine flu was rampant, the only pig in Afghanistan was quarantined. Evidently, the Afghans kept one as a curiosity in a zoo.
            http://www.reuters.com/article... [reuters.com]

          • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
            no we should not change how the whole world works on account of a bunch of barbaric muslims.
          • This may have also been a move to deal a blow to Coptic christians, a religious minority in the mostly-Islamic and pork-unfriendly region.
          • so let me get this straight...

            Because egypt is stupid enough to do this....we have to change the rules????

            really????

            REALLY??!?!??
          • by guises ( 2423402 )
            Fear of swine flu was not the reason, it was the excuse. I'm sure you're right about the event which inspired the rule though.
      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Sometimes they want to rename diseases because of the association with a bad person. I have Reuter's, but he experimented on Jews during the war. Also, the new name, reactive arthritis, is much more descriptive and I don't have to immediately say I have arthritis afterwards. Even doctors tend not to know what it is unless they are specialists.

        • by nbauman ( 624611 )

          Sometimes they want to rename diseases because of the association with a bad person. I have Reuter's, but he experimented on Jews during the war. Also, the new name, reactive arthritis, is much more descriptive and I don't have to immediately say I have arthritis afterwards. Even doctors tend not to know what it is unless they are specialists.

          The problem is that all autoimmune diseases are reactive, and most of them involve arthritis.

          As a compromise, it would have been better to hang Reiter at Nuremberg and keep his name on the disease.

    • by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:43PM (#49668041)

      Worst case scenario, they have to change their name.

      That is a bit much too. Nobody wants to be 'Mr. & Mrs. Alzheimer' ... and asking whole family trees to change their name is no more onerous than renaming a river.

      I propose drawing on fantasy and science fiction for memorable disease names. Nazgul-flesheating-disease, Tatooine-Fever, Targaryen-herpes...

      • by nbauman ( 624611 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @06:53PM (#49668663) Homepage Journal

        Worst case scenario, they have to change their name.

        That is a bit much too. Nobody wants to be 'Mr. & Mrs. Alzheimer' .

        My high school science teacher told us that the worse the disease, the greater the honor it is to have your name on it.

        If the Alzheimers don't want it named after them, there are loads of researchers who would be happy to have the honor.

        I am proud to say that acinetobacter baumanii has a mortality of over 50% and is resistant to every major antibiotic.

      • by quenda ( 644621 )

        Nobody wants to be 'Mr. & Mrs. Alzheimer' ...

        Not so bad. At least nobody will forget your name then.

    • Makes sense. You name a disease for a location and nobody wants to go there.

      Yes, because there has been no one living within 100 miles of the Ebola river since 1976. A clear case of cause and effect.

      You name a disease for a creature and it's open season on that creature - and the destroys any business that uses them.

      Wow. We should expect Chick-Fil-A to shut their doors minute now, along with a lot of farms. After all, how the hell can anyone expect to eat poultry after hearing the words "chicken pox". Oh the horror, look at the humans run away!

      Oh wait, my mistake. Those humans were merely waddling out of the KFC restaurant. Clearly humanity is paranoid as they serve up another helping.

      What's

      • Wow. We should expect Chick-Fil-A to shut their doors minute now, along with a lot of farms.

        That offensive "Chick" reference has been cited as one of the causes of women avoiding STEM careers.

      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        We should expect Chick-Fil-A to shut their doors minute now [over] "chicken pox".

        Every Chick-fil-A restaurant in the United States did shut its doors yesterday.

    • You know what's going to happen of course, right? The official name will get completely ignored, and 99% of the world will know it by it's unique, catchy, culturally-insensitive and politically incorrect common name. Like it or not, someone will come up with a much catchier name for the disease in question, and the media will pick up on it, and it will unofficially be known by that name forevermore.

      Language is hard to corral by rules, as anyone who rages against slang words being added to the dictionary w

      • We should name the diseases after politicians. Preferably members of the US Congress. They want the recognition.

        Kill two birds with one stone, so to speak.

        • Loss of control of head and/or neck movement: McConnellitis
          Sudden loss of balance resulting in blindness: Reid Syndrome
          Extreme aging of facial features (and other parts best unseen): pelosoriasis
          Mental disorder of persecution complex: obamania
          Bipolar condition of opposing beliefs every 4 to 6 years: McCainiac

        • We should name the diseases after politicians. Preferably members of the US Congress. They want the recognition.

          They already do, in a way. It seems that santorum is named after a politician...

      • I don't think so. If you introduce it with a descriptive name and an initialism or acronym that rolls off the tongue people will adopt that name. Like AIDS. But yeah, you call it "monkey pox" and people freak out and start killing monkeys. You name it "St. Louis Disease" and people think they're at risk if they're in St. Louis.

        It makes sense.

    • by Anubis IV ( 1279820 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @08:17PM (#49669209)

      Really, what it comes down to is marketing, I'm sad to say. After the Heartbleed bug was announced, a number of people took note of the fact that it wasn't even the biggest security hole in the last year, yet it received far and away the most publicity, largely because the researchers who found it waited to announce it until after they had come up with a catchy name and logo [macnn.com] for the bug. Serious outbreaks deserve appropriate marketing to ensure that the public responds appropriately, and giving them good names is a major part of that.

      I'm reminded of hurricanes and how the public viewed them in the US prior to the introduction of the modern naming convention, where they're named in alphabetical order using common names that alternate between male and female every other year. People used to not take hurricanes seriously and would routinely refuse to evacuate, resulting in a number of avoidable deaths, but as soon as they were given human names, people began anthropomorphizing the storms and treating them like something that's out to get them, which is a desirable and helpful response for the public to have when dealing with natural disasters...such as infectious outbreaks.

      If we only ever heard about the H1N1 flu subtype, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, much of the public would be unaware of the threat that each could pose (fun exercise: do you, the reader, know what each of those is?). After all, they don't know how influenza subtypes are organized or which ones are of greater concern. And "severe" and "acute" are terms they know, but not in the context of medicine, other than that the ER doctors on TV usually use the word "stat" shortly after saying them. Hell, most of them don't know what "bovine" refers to, let alone "spongiform encephalopathy". But ask folks about the common names that those ailments go by, and a good number of them will indicate some level of familiarity.

      Again, we want people to react to disease outbreaks, and giving them boring names is exactly the wrong thing to do if we want people to take the outbreak seriously so that we can keep the disease from spreading. It's desirable that people will be more careful to wash their hands after touching surfaces in public. It's desirable that we'll have a culture that frowns on people who don't cover their mouths when coughing. It's desirable that people will avoid large, public gatherings if there's an outbreak in their area. And giving them a name to latch onto is a great marketing tool that we need to be using appropriately. Giving them all names that are indistinguishable from one another is a great way to confuse, alienate, and reduce the awareness of the public when it comes to these issues.

      • If we only ever heard about the H1N1 flu subtype, severe acute respiratory syndrome, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, much of the public would be unaware of the threat that each could pose

        What was the common name for severe acute respiratory syndrome? I only heard it as SARS, and people seemed to get worked up about that just as easily as they did about mad cow disease, or avian flu. There was a water contamination scare [wikipedia.org] around here a few years ago, and cryptosporidium and giardia became household terms for quite a while.

        I don't think it's so much the naming as it is the reporting around it. If the media repeats it enough, people will remember the term, even if it is outlandish. The main pro

        • "SARS" was what I was thinking of, but that's kinda the point. It was "SARS" to the public, not "severe acute respiratory syndrome", in much the same way that "HIV" and "AIDS" are terms that we treat with appropriate respect, while "human immunodeficiency virus" and "autoimmune deficiency syndrome" are generally unrecognized. The acronym became the name in each of those cases, at least as far as the public is concerned.

          I think you are right that the reporting around it plays a large part in things, which ti

      • I'm reminded of hurricanes and how the public viewed them in the US prior to the introduction of the modern naming convention, ...

        Considering that naming hurricanes dates back to at least `1825 I think you are mistaken. More importantly, our current system dates back to just after World War II (although the naming convention has changed several times since then). Which means that the practice of naming hurricanes was instituted at the same time that we instituted a practice of tracking them so as to give advance warning and call for evacuation on anything other than a local scale. Basically, before we started naming hurricanes you wer

        • I'm reminded of hurricanes and how the public viewed them in the US prior to the introduction of the modern naming convention, ...

          Considering that naming hurricanes dates back to at least `1825 I think you are mistaken. More importantly, our current system dates back to just after World War II (although the naming convention has changed several times since then).

          A) You're missing the forest for the trees. Even if I'm mistaken, which I don't concede, it doesn't affect the point I was getting at. You'd remove one example, but I could have just as easily swapped in any number of others ones.

          B) I was quite clearly referring to the public designations for storms in the US, so I don't know why you're mentioning 1825 at all, given that the only naming conventions around back then were either internal designations or were not in use in the US at all. The naming convention

    • by hey! ( 33014 )

      Why not give diseases numbers, and refer to emerging infections people who don't know by name using the number? You could have a system where each number prefix tells you more or less the family of diseases you're dealing with.

      I know it sounds bizarre, but people seemed to be OK with H1N1 for "Swine Flu", so why not extend that to any kind of infectious (flu, malaria) or environmental (Minamata disease) etc.?

    • what about hurricanes??? should we stop naming them after people???
    • I'm wondering what the pharmaceutical marketing firms are going to do now.
      All of the good made up names are going to be taken by diseases.
      If this had happened a few years ago "I'm down with Crestor" could have had an entirely different meaning.

      To me this all seems a bit too much. Some day we'll hear:
      "We were going to name our child "Henry" but we didn't want everyone thinking of Henry the Eighth. So we named him "Frienworthy" instead. "Familient" and "Intellus" were others we considered.

      "Moon Uni

    • by aevan ( 903814 )
      Agreed. I know I've no interest in visiting Spain.
    • Hello Mr. Meval you've contracted a bad case of Q9fPfmk2roBWZuQqjeCFf2xfInOWtzMeuXvyVP8PtSeq6sgDU60kkLY6bQ13MT4k and we will have to use antibiotic R1rMzq5rM6 for at least six weeks. Please make your check payable to the l18O5pQQDAQDAXAesU56 medical clinic of Medina

    • So what you are saying is that we should have "Politician flu", or "Media flu"
  • ...of the poor stigmatized pigs!

    Oh wait.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:17PM (#49667869)
    Will this help, or will "acute respiratory syndrome" become the new offensive term?
    • Probably. Words mean nothing but the meaning or stigma we attach to them. A century ago, mentally handicapped people were referred to as "idiots" "imbeciles", and "morons", and originally these were officially used terms which indicated a certain IQ range. After years of increasingly negative connotation and abuse, (the Three Stooges probably contributed to that) these terms because so derogatory that they were replaced with the milder, "mentally retarded", which was supposed to be the politically corre
  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:18PM (#49667871)

    Intel, AMD and nVidia sure seem to know how to make up obscure and arcane names for their products, maybe the W.H.O. should ask them.

    Disease #i23-DX4-R327-GTX543 has a nice ring to it.

    • Here's another idea: how about the ISO8601 date + GPS coordinates where the disease is first found/confirmed?

      Example: LA37.247091-LO115.812314-2015-05-11

      • by nbauman ( 624611 )

        Suggestions like this have gone nowhere in the past.

        http://www.qfever.com/2002/11/... [qfever.com]

        “Confusing” Brand, Generic Drug Name System To Be Replaced
        Full scientific nomenclature will soon be mandatory
        November 1, 2002

        WASHINGTON, DC--In an effort to decrease prescription errors, The American Pharmaceutical Association announced today that a new naming system will be enforced by pharmacies nationwide beginning in January.

        Instead of the current system of brand and generic names, clinicians will be require

    • Or Ebola for short ....

      The problem isn't the naming convention. The problem is we are afraid of "connotations" in words. This is how "Retarded" became "Slow", became "Special" and so on until instead of ruining one word, we ruin a whole bunch trying to not "offend" anyone. We need to get over it.

    • Give the task over to Microsoft's marketing group. They're pretty good at obscure and arcane, not to mention downright weird.

      Bob
      Zune
      Vista
      Plays for sure
      Clippy
      Me
      CE
      RT

      etc.

  • The organization suggests researchers, health officials, and journalists should use more neutral, generic terms, such as severe respiratory disease or novel neurologic syndrome instead. “It will certainly lead to boring names and a lot of confusion,” predicts Linfa Wang

    WHO thought this was a good idea? It's all fun and games until someone confuses two different severe respiratory diseases, or a novel neurologic syndrome for an older neurologic syndrome.

    • by nbauman ( 624611 )

      The organization suggests researchers, health officials, and journalists should use more neutral, generic terms, such as severe respiratory disease or novel neurologic syndrome instead. “It will certainly lead to boring names and a lot of confusion,” predicts Linfa Wang

      WHO thought this was a good idea? It's all fun and games until someone confuses two different severe respiratory diseases, or a novel neurologic syndrome for an older neurologic syndrome.

      It's really simple:

      Neurologic syndrome

      New neurologic syndrome

      Newer neurologic syndrome

      Even newer neurologic syndrome

      Really new neurologic syndrome

      Really new neurologic syndrome with strawberry rash

    • Then of course they would almost immediately get abbreviated to SRD and NNS because nobody wants to waste time writing or pronouncing long names.
      As if we don't already have more initialisms that the human mind can reasonably deal with.

  • my doctor said i've got Respira 6.
  • The problem is removal of responsibility, which puts everyone in their own fluffy bubble where they can't be hurt nor they can do anything.

    You don't go to Spain because you heard about the Spanish flu? Your loss, and an advantage for those who use their brain.

    I am not letting anybody dictate how I must express myself, how I must think. What I do can have social repercussions, what I think or what I say (most of the time) are not business of societies that proclaim themselves free.

    First it's about national s

  • We should name them after politicians and ambulance chasing lawyers. It can't possibly give them a worse reputation and the confusion may result in more funding for the eradication efforts.

    • Or maybe after genocidal leaders/serial killers/mass murderers. It's not like their reputation would suffer much more.

  • by ArcadeMan ( 2766669 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:31PM (#49667967)

    Don't name anything with the word Belg... oh, I almost said it right there.

    This word has been known to start intergalactic wars.

  • I can see the case for avoiding overt offense just for giggles(Hey, let's call the downs babies 'mongoloids' just like the good old days!); but this WHO suggestion seems both excessively broad(eg. diseases named for people almost always honor discoverers or significant researchers, which is hardly stigmatizing; diseases named after locations, unless novel as all hell, tend to better known than their place of origin/discovery pretty quickly) and deeply futile(the veterinarians and epidemiologists of the worl
  • Generalized metabolic disorder. Formerly known as death.
  • Disease names may *NOT* include:... People's names

    and...

    Disease names may include...Causal pathogen and associated descriptors

    What if the causal pathogen is named after somebody?

  • by Vinegar Joe ( 998110 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @05:59PM (#49668141)

    Is a disease.

    • Agreed. Political Correctness = Political Censorship = Political Cowards.

      With apologies to Futurama: I'm sorry Fry but drowning has been renamed acute case of over saturation of dihydrogen monoxide consumption. to stop this for once and for all. =P

    • Sure, be we can't call it that anymore. We'll have to call it Obsessive Non-Offensive Disorder. A condition that be easily diagnosed by presenting the patient with a series of mildly racist or sexist jokes and observing their reaction. If the results are inconclusive, then work midget or retard into casual conversation and judge reaction level. It is important to ensure the test criterion should not cause direct personal offense to a category of which the patient is a member. Obsessive Non-Offensive Disorde

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Except that's not what it is. Only idiots are saying it is political correctness, people who understand the issue realise that it isn't. Unfortunately, stupidity is a disease that is particularly hard to cure when chronic.

  • Is E [wikipedia.org] afflicted with condition #8839669 or #8836996 ?

    Oh well, the treatment for #8836996 is covered by Eirs medical plan, let's try that one first. Only alternative is to reevaluate patient #113-4551-92130, but that could take months and condition #8839669 is known to be fatal.

    • "Eir", not "eirs". You wouldn't say "covered by theirs medical plan", and Spivak pronouns are almost entirely just singular "they" pronouns with the "th" dropped.

  • by c ( 8461 ) <beauregardcp@gmail.com> on Monday May 11, 2015 @06:12PM (#49668285)

    Name diseases after serial/mass killers and cults, with some consideration given to their body counts.

    • by rizole ( 666389 )
      Or...
      ...Chuck Norris, currently rampaging through Western Africa, has now been sighted in Europe, America and China with a major new outbreak occuring in Mexico city in the last 24 hours. Scientists are voicing concern on the difficulty of containing Chuck Norris and expect many more deaths in the coming months. Here's Bob with the details....
  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @06:38PM (#49668515)

    âoeIt will certainly lead to boring names and a lot of confusion,â predicts Linfa Wang, an expert on emerging infectious diseases at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong.

    Now that sounds like a bad disease.... I'd hate to tell my wife that I've been diagnosed with a Linfa Wang...

  • by pubwvj ( 1045960 ) on Monday May 11, 2015 @06:48PM (#49668617)

    This is very rude. Diseases should be name after the molecular weight numbers of the causal agents.

    "I'm sorry, Mr. Magoo" said the doctor, "but you've come down with 1291-12-121-124132-1212-121-9342-12. If you have any questions just Wiki that for details."

  • In Russian Chui means common curse word, basically "d*ck". In Chinese that is a just a name.

    So what is it? We have WHO telling not to use certain words? What exactly will it change? Will russkies stop cursing, or Chinese will stop using one of their common last names?

  • For example, Kanye West Fever, or Donald Trump Syndrome?

  • The organization suggests researchers, health officials, and journalists should use more neutral, generic terms, such as severe respiratory disease or novel neurologic syndrome instead.

    ...there will only ever be one severe respiratory disease, so there's no risk of negative medical outcomes from a patient getting incorrect treatments when doctors confuse one for another.

  • Let them use code numbers, they cannot be offensive: sorry, but you have caught a 23-19

  • ...you are HIV Alladeen...
  • What about renaming political correctness disease to something less offensive, or at least more accurate?

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