Why Can’t We Call It the China Virus?
There are reasons we say “1918 Pandemic” Rather Than “Spanish Flu”
COVID-19 is the most disruptive pandemic since the 1918 Pandemic. Also known as “The Spanish Flu” the 1918 pandemic is not called “Spanish Flu” by most experts.
There are more reasons for this than meets the eye.
First of all, the 1918 pandemic, which may have killed as many as 100 million people, did not originate in Spain. In fact, most researchers agree that it originated in the United States. Many think it began in Haskell County, Kansas, from the Ft. Riley military post.
Today, the United Nations, and World Health Organization, (WHO) as well as most formal bodies of authority, have agreed that it causes problems of many kinds — not the least of which are diplomatic concerns — to refer to an illness by geographic location.
Imagine if your home town became known as epicenter for “The Concord Cholera”, or the “Nashville Virus.”
Also, to call an epidemic by its supposed location of origin is not very precise.
The 1918 pandemic, pinpoints specifically, the year it hit everyone the hardest. If we just call something the “China virus,” or “Spanish Flu,” it pins no historic date for future reference.
The great plagues of the middle ages rocked Europes in waves.
The Bubonic plague was known in its time as “the Pestilence, the Blue Sickness, or the Great Mortality.” We now use the name Bubonic Plague because having one agreed upon name (for anything!) is less confusing.
In addition, it was called the pestilence because it was seen as a wrath from God. Today, we look to the factual cause of a disease, not a supernatural one. If we are to call something “The China virus, or Spanish Flu, this is bound to have at least some people blame the Chinese, or the Spanish, or anyone associated with the location name.
COVID-19, also, is more accurately seen as a Global pandemic.
Finally, names used today are meant to help people understand something about the disease. With Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, SARS, for example, the R (respiratory) describes an important symptom of which people need to be aware. The name COVID-19, describes that this is specifically a corona virus, and it began in the year 2019.
Shakespeare wrote “What’s in a name?” But he was being poetic, not deadly serious.
What we call a disease has enormously important reasons to be given the names that are chosen for them.
Everyone, from leaders to citizens, should agree that the words we use matter in the big picture of global health.