The World Health Organization (WHO) is an internationally recognized leader in the international fight against deadly diseases. What few people know, however, is that the WHO is also involved in the bestowing names to illnesses. As any scientist can tell you, naming a disease is no easy task. The moniker chosen must not only be unique, descriptive, and accurate. Ideally, it will also avoid causing any unnecessary offense to people, places, and animals. To help the disease name-givers in their task, the WHO has a whole set of official guidelines for the naming of newly discovered human infectious diseases, as reported in Science magazine. However, not everyone is pleased about the rules and recommendations.
Among the existing monikers 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. Instead, WHO says researchers, health officials, and journalists should use more neutral, generic terms, such as severe respiratory disease or novel neurologic syndrome.