A System for Naming Flu Outbreaks

The BBC radio said some group or another was trying to come up with a system for naming flu outbreaks. I can hardly see why, mostly these are annual events, “The 1919 flu” seems good enough for us civilians.

The idea is they want something like the systems used to name tropical storms. They have some rules. No place names, no animal names, no occupation names.

I bet we can come up with a good system. How about “Obscure nouns in alphabetical order?”

2020 Atlatl
2021 Baft
2022 Chad
2023 Damson
2024 Echard

And so on.

Can you do better?

How is “damson” an obscure noun?

My suggestion is “diseases of cattle” - brucellosis, mastitis, sarcoptic mange mite, and so forth. But they should not be assigned alphabetically, but rather in ascending order of lethality.

Naming a disease after a disease seems rather circular. Naming a disease after a crop or a food may be damaging to people in that business.

I was using “damson” as the color, a noun. Now I see it is also a sort of plum, so that would not be a good example.

Is it the disease or the outbreak that is being named?

Newly discovered diseases are often named after the main population, or population center, where they were first discovered, although it could be offensive at times. Best example of this was GRID, for Gay Related Immune Deficiency, a name that was quickly changed to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Had Ebola been named after the town where it was first identified, we’d be talking about the deadly Yambuku virus, but its discoverers decided that naming it after the nearby Ebola River would be less embarrassing to the town’s residents. A similar disease, Marburg, is called that because it was first identified in Marburg, Germany even though it’s native to eastern Africa.

The hantavirus disease that terrified residents of the southwestern U.S. in the summer of 1993 has since been dubbed Sin Nombre, or “the disease without a name.” I lived in that area 8 months later, doing clinicals, and a lot of people asked me, “Are you really sure you want to go there?” I replied, “Something terrible could happen to me here too”, and it has since been learned that Sin Nombre is almost exclusively a summertime disease.

The idea is to improve on past practice.

No names or people, places or products.

I had to google it. Never heard of them.

Why not just use the name of the organism involved? The organism Borrelia burgdorferi was first discovered to cause disease in Lyme, Connecticut and now people talk about “Lyme disease” while they should call it Borreliosis.

Because there are dozens of Corona viruses. You can use the name of the particular strain, but that’s not very catchy. The current virus is officially called COVID-19, which is as good as any name suggested here.