Guidelines in the Naming of New Human Infectious Diseases

A few years ago, The World Health Organization issued best practices for naming new human infectious diseases to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people.

Naming Suggestions

WHO suggests naming diseases using generic descriptive terms based on the condition's symptoms (e.g. respiratory disease, neurologic syndrome, watery diarrhoea), as well as more specific descriptive terms, like the pathogen that causes the disease, how the disease manifests, who it affects, its severity or its seasonality (e.g. progressive, juvenile, severe, winter).

What to Avoid?

Terms that should be avoided in disease names include geographic locations (e.g. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Spanish Flu, Rift Valley fever), people’s names (e.g. Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, Chagas disease), species of animal or food (e.g. swine flu, bird flu, monkey pox), cultural, population, industry or occupational references (e.g. legionnaires), and terms that incite undue fear (e.g. unknown, fatal, epidemic)”.

What to Remember?

This set of practices do not replace the existing ICD [International Classification of Diseases] system, but rather provide an interim solution prior to the assignment of a final ICD disease name.

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