Yes, we long have referred to disease outbreaks by geographic places. Here's why we shouldn't anymore
Updated 0850 GMT (1650 HKT) March 28, 2020
(CNN)What's in a (virus) name?
Infectious diseases throughout history have been named for geographic locations where they were thought to have originated: Spanish flu, West Nile virus, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, Zika and Ebola, to name a few.
By that logic, it may seem that there's nothing inherently wrong with referring to the novel coronavirus as the "Wuhan virus" or the "Chinese virus," language which President Donald Trump has used and defended using. Wuhan is, after all, considered the first epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak that has since become a global pandemic.
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But the past has shown naming diseases after places can have negative consequences for nations, economies and people.
Here's why scientists and scholars say these naming practices are problematic.
It can be inaccurate or misleading
One reason why scientists and health officials caution against using geographic locations to refer to diseases is that they can turn out to be misleading -- and in some cases, inaccurate.
Take, for example, what's commonly referred to as the Spanish flu.
Despite its name, most researchers agree that the H1N1 virus that swept the world in 1918 and 1919 didn't originate in Spain, although there's no universal consensus on its exact origins. Instead, the virus came to be associated with Spain for reasons that were largely political.
The pandemic happened against the backdrop of World War I. Though the virus had been circulating around the world, nations such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom and the United States, were reluctant to disseminate news on outbreaks within their own borders because they didn't want the other side to know their soldiers were sick, according to the history podcast BackStory.
Because Spain was neutral in the war, it didn't suppress news about the virus. So when Spanish news agencies began reporting in spring 1918 about an epidemic that had appeared in Madrid, it created the false perception that the virus originated in Spain -- and that the Spaniards bore the brunt of the disease.
In reality, out of the estimated 50 million people who died of the virus, less than 260,000 were likely from Spain.