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Naming diseases: First do no harm

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Science  08 May 2015:
Vol. 348, Issue 6235, pp. 643
DOI: 10.1126/science.348.6235.643

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  • RE: Naming the 2019 Coronavirus
    • Zhiwen Hu, Professor, School of Computer and Information Engineering, Zhejiang Gongshang University, Hangzhou 310018, China.
    • Other Contributors:
      • Zhongliang Yang, Dr., Beijing National Research Center for Information Science and Technology (BNRist), Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China.
      • Qi Li, Beijing National Research Center for Information Science and Technology (BNRist), Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China.
      • Yongfeng Huang, Professor, Beijing National Research Center for Information Science and Technology (BNRist), Tsinghua University, Beijing 100084, China.

    On the occasion of the Chinese Lunar New Year of 2020, the 2019 novel coronavirus disease (now known as COVID-19) outbreak was first reported from Wuhan City of China, home to 11 million people. However, less aligned emphasis has been given to naming the 2019 novel coronavirus and pathogenic disease. So far, there is not a universally accepted name yet, either for academic-industrial usage or consistency with international virus taxonomy. The arguments in academic-industrial sphere flew to and fro, and nothing seemed certain or obviously right. In real dilemma, layered on top of this, making informed and judicious choice is a catch-22 for each authoritative body.

    The past few weeks has witnessed an explosive growth of tangled monikers and hashtags of the virus, which have found their ways in daily communication. The virus is thought to have originated in China, which led to it being frequently named the “Wuhan coronavirus” or “Chinese coronavirus” and our survey pinpoint that those unofficial names may have contributed to backlash against Chinese people.

    On 12 January 2020, the WHO provisionally named the 2019 novel coronavirus disease “2019-nCoV”. In fact, the word ‘novel’ is confusing in the way that neither the disease nor the host range can be used to reliably determine the novelty of a virus.

    Before that, the 2019 novel coronavirus was designated as “WH-Human-1 coronavirus” or “Wuhan-Human-1 coronavirus” by a group of scientists in Nature on 3 F...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.

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