WHO
The World Health Organization has said the use of disease names such as swine flu have stigmatized certain communities.Getty Images

The World Health Organization has issued best practices for naming human infectious diseases to avoid offence.

"The use of disease names such as 'swine flu' has stigmatized certain communities or economic sectors," WHO said in a statement on its official Twitter account.

"Important to minimize unnecessary negative effects on nations, economies and people when naming diseases."

According to WHO, the new naming practises will not replace the International Classification of Diseases system but rather provide guidance.

For instance, "if the pathogen that causes the disease is known, it should be part of the disease name (e.g. coronavirus, influenza virus, salmonella)," said WHO.

"More specific descriptive terms can be added when robust information is available on how the disease manifests, who it affects, its severity.

"Disease names should consist of generic descriptive terms, based on the symptoms that the disease causes - e.g. respiratory disease."

Critics, however fear scrutiny over diseases' names will do little to save lives.

"This won't save lives. It comes under the heading of political correctness and I am very sceptical it will have any permanent benefit," said Bacteriologist Professor Hugh Pennington, reported The Telegraph.

"The World Health Organisation is a political organisation – an arm of the UN – which got badly burned by not acting fast enough on Ebola."

Meanwhile, Dr Keiji Fukuda, Assistant Director-General for Health Security at the WHO said: "This may seem like a trivial issue to some, but disease names really do matter to the people who are directly affected.

"We've seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals.

"This can have serious consequences for peoples' lives and livelihoods."