A virus by any other name?

Naming new viruses is a surprisingly tricky, often hotly-contested process, and choosing a name for emergent viruses often has significant ramifications. For instance, the original misnomer of the 2009 H1N1 pandemic – swine flu – resulted in millions of dollars of losses for the American pork industry.  Other, equally unhelpful names for the virus included “Mexican flu”.

Read more in this interesting piece in Pacific Standard Magazine on the long and often circuitous process of virus naming.

Excerpt: “Human disease is littered with examples of fractious, sometimes furious rows over what emerging pathogens are called. Some 30 years ago, when the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, was discovered, it was named “GRID,” or “gay-related immune deficiency,” helping to spread the slur ‘the gay plague’. It was not until it became clear the sexually transmitted virus was also infecting heterosexuals and haemophiliacs, that GRID was replaced with the more accurate HIV. More recently, the scientific ‘H1N1’ was the name that stuck for the pandemic flu strain that swept the world in 2009/2010 after earlier suggestions proved too sensitive. An Israeli health minister objected to ‘swine flu’ on religious grounds and ‘Mexican flu’ caused offense to a nation.”

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