The Reason Viruses Aren't Named After Locations Is Because of Progress, Experts Say

“Just because certain terms have been used in the past doesn’t make it appropriate now. We know that language evolves,” an expert said

President Donald Trump's notes shows where "Corona" was crossed out and overwritten with "Chinese" in reference to the coronavirus during a briefing in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House, March 19, 2020, in Washington, D.C.
Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images

While the White House has stood by President Donald Trump’s frequent use of the phrase “Chinese virus” in reference to COVID-19 — citing the previous names of illnesses like “West Nile Virus” as justification — experts say the argument just doesn’t hold up.

Critics noted that we must “learn from the past” in handling viruses, slamming the White House’s tweet on Wednesday that claimed “Spanish Flu. West Nile Virus. Zika. Ebola. All named for places.”

John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, told NBC News that while people have used those terms in the past, society has progressed. Practices that were implemented in the past have changed with more education and awareness, he said.

The World Health Organization itself revised its own conventions, even warning media and scientists to do so, as well, in 2015.

"In recent years, several new human infectious diseases have emerged. The use of names such as 'swine flu' and 'Middle East Respiratory Syndrome' has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors," said Dr. Keiji Fukuda, who was the assistant director-general for health security at the WHO at the time.

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