Zika, Ebola, mad cow: What's in a disease name?

Story highlights

  • WHO issued recommendations for how to name a newly identified disease; no animals, locations or people's names
  • WHO suggests naming a disease after symptoms associated with it
  • Swine flu would go by A(H1N1)pdm09, a name the WHO put forth in 2009

(CNN)Zika Forest is a "nice tourist stop" for people visiting Uganda, according to a local safari company. It is a short drive from the capital city of Kampala, and offers a "convenient taste of a tropical forest," boasts a Ugandan travel agency.

But just try selling a tourist on a visit to the Zika Forest after frightening reports of the virus that it was named after have been dominating headlines.
The Zika virus, which was first observed in a monkey captured in the Zika Forest, mostly cause mild symptoms such as fever and rash. But much more concerning than that, it has been linked with a birth defect known as microcephaly. Pregnant women should even consider avoiding travel to Brazil, Mexico and other areas where Zika is being spread, according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
    It is hard to know what the future holds for Zika virus and if there will be outbreaks in the United States -- several cases have cropped up in the United States, all among people infected while traveling. But if history is any indication, the words "Zika Forest" could strike fear in the hearts of travelers for the foreseeable future.

    The effect on the public psyche

    Just consider mad cow disease. Following one of the numerous outbreaks in northern England in 2001, authorities had to urge visitors to return to the nation's idyllic countryside-turned-ghost town.
    It may be hard to soften the panic that already surrounds mad cow disease, or swine flu or West Nile virus. But if recommendations put forth by the World Health Organization in May take hold, the next time an infectious disease is identified, it could have a much more innocuous effect on the public psyche.
    The WHO issued best practices for how to name a newly born or identified human infectious disease. Scientists and the public should strike from their list of disease names a