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News > U.S.

A Fast Outbreak But Not A Definitive Name For New Coronavirus

  • Dr. Markel:

    Dr. Markel: "The easiest name will prevail, and it's naive to think otherwise" | Photo: Reuters

Published 4 February 2020

Amid the new Coronavirus outbreak, organizations around the world have not yet chosen a unique name to define this new disease.

The new Coronavirus, first discovered in the Chinese city of Wuhan, does not yet have a unique name for all media and organizations to identify it equally. Meanwhile, American scientists dedicated to the study of disease names are evaluating possible alternatives.


Factbox: What We Know About the New Coronavirus in China  

So far, most sources have agreed to call it the Wuhan virus, a name that "simply slips off the tongue," according to Trevor Hoppe, a researcher at the University of North Carolina.

Hoppe added that scientists are still learning about the new virus, so it's hard to find the right name.

On the other hand, Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the current name is probably temporary.

"Once people have a chance to catch their breath, it might change," she added.

Many media outlets have only called it the new virus or the new Coronavirus, which is not very specific.

Coronavirus is the umbrella term for a large group of viruses, including those that can cause the common cold.

Since the outbreak is centered in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, others have been using the Wuhan virus or the Wuhan coronavirus or even the Wuhan flu. However, the flu is an entirely different virus.

It is consistent with a centuries-old tradition of naming new diseases after the cities, countries, or regions of the world where they first appeared.

 West Nile was first detected in the West Nile district of Uganda, and Ebola in a village near the Ebola River in Africa.

On the other hand, in 2015, the World Health Organization issued guidelines discouraging the use of geographic locations, animals, or groups of people to name diseases.

However, doctors such as Howard Markel, a historian at the University of Michigan, find attractiveness in names inspired by the respective discoverers, such as Alzheimer's or Parkinson's. However, that is also very difficult at the present date because many scientists around the world can work on a particular disease at the same time.

"The easiest name will prevail, and it's naive to think otherwise," in the end, the WHO may have little control over the name given and the Wuhan virus is a very catchy name, no pun intended," Markel added.

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