Coronavirus named (twice), but not after a people, a place or the pangolin

The “novel coronavirus” got a new name — and then another — in a disagreement or crossed wires between two health organizations this week.

A sub-text to this interesting story, told well in an article by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, is that naming disease after a place, a people or an animal is not helpful and can engender stereotypes.

Think of the swine flu.

Pangolin in defensive posture

Or MERS, short for Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

The problem is that such disease do not remain confined to a species or a place and soon become inaccurate. We are dealing with that in this new virus strain’s origin in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province.

Attaching a now-global disease to a point of origin, a race of people or an animal (in this case scaly anteaters called pangolins) distorts the disease and how we respond to the place, the people or the pangolin.

The new names are COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2.

— Joe Grimm

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