Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What's in a name?

Who ever said that? I can't remember but it doesn't really matter. However WHO is now looking at names for some diseases that stir media hype, bias, and fear. Mad cow? The words alone make me think of the bicycle scene in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" where Paul Newman gets to see the whites of his eyes.

Asian bird flu doesn't make me think of the Far East but of the Chinese ducks that were in a favorite story from childhood.  West Nile virus makes me think of the Egypt and wonder if it came from crocodiles.

WHO wants names of diseases to reflect what they are not where they are from or found. They want references to diseases not to include types of animals, places, people, or cultures or occupations. Some other names under attack are Alzheimers and Lou Gehrigs and Lyme disease. I am sure you can think of more.

The problem with these fancy names is the panic and bias that ensues in the public as a result. Who wants to go to Asia if you can get the Asian bird flu? Or Egypt if you can get West Nile? Or Lyme, CT if you can get Lyme disease? Swine flu means you don't want to eat pork or go visit a farm.

These name makes it easier for people to relate to and the hype and fear to ensue. If the new flu is called H1N1 or 2016 highly transmissible flu, would you stop eating chicken or pork?

"As the WHO announcement stated, scientists as well as national authorities and the media should take care early on to give a name that is more responsible and accurate."  

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