Jane Bates: Catch my drift?

Don’t mess with disease names, says Jane Bates.

Don’t mess with disease names, says Jane Bates

‘Poly-something. That’s what it was,’ the patient said. Polycythaemia? Polydactyly? Polyfilla? She had no idea and neither did I.

Taking an accurate medical history can be an uphill struggle. Medical words can be difficult to remember for some patients, and it could soon get a whole lot worse.

The World Health Organization has said that no new human infectious diseases should be named after animals, people or countries because of the panic and confusion this has apparently caused. So no more swine flu, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever. To avoid negative connotations, the scientific term will be used instead. So thanks guys, you just made life so much harder.

And is this really necessary? No rocky mountain has ever been hurt by having a spotted fever named after it. And who, on contracting rubella, blames the Germans? These are just names from way back in time, and to most of us mean very little.

Under the new system, Middle East respiratory syndrome would become Novel Betacoronavirus Clade C Type 1. Politically correct this may be, but pretty hard to remember. How far will this go? Will frozen shoulder be deemed inappropriate because it might offend those living in the Arctic Circle?

Most puzzling of all is the proposed embargo on occupational references. Who could take offence at housemaid’s knee? It is rather quaint and you can imagine how you get it, black-leading those grates all day. An atypical bacterial pneumonia has hardly destroyed the reputation of legionnaires, and as no one is likely to pick on someone wielding a meat-cleaver, the term butcher’s wart must be fairly safe.

Calling illnesses by their scientific name or number is impractical because people just cannot get to grips with them.

About the author

Jane Bates

Jane Bates is an ophthalmic nurse in Hampshire

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