Why is Zika being spelled with a capital "z?"

See query. Malaria, cancer influenza, scoliosis, Lyme because it’s a place, Schmidt-Noodle-Joh-Doe syndrome because people names (lucky e.e. cummings wasn’t a doctor).


I assume because it’s named after the Zika Forest in Uganda.

On wiki (no link as I’m on my phone) it mentions that the virus was first isolated at the Zika Forest.

Pair of ninjas at four minutes.



Yes, but ebola was named after a river and it’s usually not capitalized. Ditto for the hantavirus.

In my experience, it (ETA: “Ebola”) usually is. It’s capitalized on the CDC website, and a quick look through Google News shows it capitalized in most journalistic sources, including the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune, the Wall Street Journal, the BBC news website, etc.

“Ebola” is still formally capitalized, that I see. But we’ll start dropping the case in casual contexts when we get used to the zika, as well.

Yeah, looking into it more, the Associated Press Stylebook recommends capitalizing Ebola, and any diseases named after a person or geographical area.

Exactly. I was thinking of the too numerous to count discussions in various places on the web where ebola is not capitalized. If zika stays in the spotlight long enough, it’ll go the same way. Or rather, it’s going the same way as we speak.

My theory is that the capitalization is mainly a matter of unfamiliarity with the name. It applies no matter the source of the name. For example, chikungunya, another virus, is very often capitalized even though it does not come from a personal or geographic name. If it ever gets the same media attention as zika, they’ll stop doing that. It’ll also be shortened to an easier to remember/pronounce/type form.

Naming of diseases seems to be thoroughly ad-hoc and capricious. Some diseases have actual names (e.g., poliomyelitis or polio for short), while others only seem to have descriptive phrases as their names (e.g., Legionnaires’ Disease). Some have descriptive phrases as their names which then become acronyms which become the de-facto names (e.g., Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome --> AIDS), with the odd result that some diseases have names that are always written in ALL CAPS. Similarly with SARS.

ISTM that older diseases with older names more often have actual names, while newer diseases (or at least newly-named diseases) less often have names.

Legionnaires’s Disease is pneumonia (a disease of breathing, an infection of the alveoli) caused by Legionella bacteria.

Could also be legionellosis (a word made up by adding -sis to legionell-), which means the condition of having a legionella disease.

Often spelled with a capital L. I guess because it seems right to capitalize the “name” of something.

The problem with naming diseases like AIDS is that other countries will translate them. AIDS is called SIDA (Syndrome Immuno-déficitaire Acquis) in France for example.

I could imagine a Latin-derived name would be the same in many modern Western languages. (Like the scientific names of plants and animals.) Perhaps something like poliomyelitis is an example? Does that have the same or different name in, e.g., French, Spanish, German, Hebrew?

Other older common names were unique to their languages. E.g., “influenza” in English, “La gripe” in Spanish, “grippe” in French, שַׁפַעַת (sha-fa-at) in Hebrew. What about, e.g., tuberculosis (formerly called “consumption” in older English).

What about Legionnaire’s Disease being caused by the Legionella bacteria, as Melbourne mentions? Which was named after which?

Legionnaire’s disease was named because the first documented outbreak was at a Legionnaire’s convention in Philadelphia. I read that in a book called “Medical Mysteries” or something of the sort back around 3rd grade. Great book that did a bit of a primer on epidemiology.

Interestingly enough, I just had to look up the book because for some strange reason, I have a very strong memory of reading it, up to and including what the book looked like- turns out I gave myself too much credit, as it came out when I would have been about twelve, so not third grade, but everything else was as I remembered. The book was “Medical Mysteries: Six Deadly Cases” by Dian Dincin Buchman.

Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled thread.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that Legionnaire’s Disease was named after the bacteria, rather to indicated that it is a particular variation of the disease known as “pneumonia”