WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
- World Health Organization (WHO) announces the official name for novel coronavirus: COVID-19.
- The WHO Director-General gives emphasis on naming the novel coronavirus without inciting bias that potentially leads to a political, social, or economic impact on a given country or community.
- COVID-19 now infects more than 42,000 people with more than 1,000 people dead as of Tuesday afternoon.
The novel coronavirus infecting more than 42,000 people in China now has an official name: COVID-19. The acronym stands for coronavirus disease 2019 that was discovered in 2019.
The World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Tuesday announced this proposed official name for the virus and detailed the nomenclature process, putting emphasis on choosing a name for the disease that makes no reference to “a geographical location, an animal, or an individual or group” of people to avoid stigma.
The original name nCoV-2019, which stood for novel coronavirus discovered in 2019, is equivalent to naming a child “son born in 2019”. Hence the need for proper nomenclature, which roughly translates to devising or choosing of names for things.
The WHO Director-General also added that the name is easy to pronounce.
The importance of choosing a name for the disease is parallel to the increasing death toll from the coronavirus epidemic, with more than 1,000 people dead as of Tuesday afternoon. Even more so given that there are several coronaviruses that are classified differently from one another. Some cause mild illness, such as the common cold while others cause deadly respiratory diseases, as has been illustrated by COVID-19.
The nomenclature for discovered diseases is not as straightforward as it might seem. It is important to consider that the name of a deadly disease has the potential to have a political, social, as well as economic impact on a given country or community.
Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) is cited as an example that insinuates false information about the virus. The name appears to suggest there is something about the Middle East in general that can cause the disease when the actual reason for naming it so was only because the virus was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012.
The swine flu pandemic of 2009 devastated the swine industry with a decline in sales over unnecessary fears brought about by the name of the disease that was given without evidence proving that the flu was spread through eating pork. Swine flu is now renamed H1N1 in reference to the particular strain of influenza.
WHO has since then developed international nomenclature guidelines for new diseases where it details rules to eliminate bias in naming a disease: the name should not include proper names of the people who first identified the pathogens, animals associated with the illness, or places where they were discovered.
WHO named other diseases with improper nomenclature: Spanish flu, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and monkeypox.
Source: NBC News