Why the World Health Organization just renamed the COVID variants
SAN DIEGO (KGTV) – The World Health Organization wants you to stop using names like the British variant or the Indian variant.
As part of the new WHO naming system unveiled this week, the UK variant is now the Alpha variant.
The variant first detected in South Africa is now the beta variant. The Brazil variant is the Gamma variant. The India variant is now the Delta variant.
The WHO says the naming convention, based on the Greek alphabet, will be easier for an unscientific audience and less stigmatizing than location-based nicknames.
Scientists say the name of a virus or variant can have an impact. A study published in May linked former President Donald Trump’s first tweet about a “Chinese virus” to an exponential increase in anti-Asian rhetoric on Twitter.
“If we don’t change the names and terminology, racism will continue,” said Russell Jeung, professor at San Francisco State University, co-founder of Stop AAPI Hate.
Stop documented AAPI hate 6,603 incidents targeting Asian Americans from March 2020 through March 2021, ranging from verbal abuse to physical attacks.
“Time and time again, Asians have been attacked because people are threatened by us, and I think it’s because of the terminology,” he said. “I really blame the term ‘Chinese virus’ as being lethal to Asian Americans.”
|Former name||Line||New name of WHO||Designation|
|British variant||B.1.1.7||Alpha||Worrisome variant|
|South Africa variant||B.1.351||Beta||Worrisome variant|
|Variant Brazil||P.1||Gamma||Worrisome variant|
|Variant of India||B.1.617.2||Delta||Worrisome variant|
|Californian variant||B.1.427 / B.1.429||Epsilon||Variant of interest|
|Variant Brazil||P.2||Zeta||Variant of interest|
|Nigeria variant||B.1.525||Eta||Variant of interest|
|Filipino variant||P.3||Theta||Variant of interest|
|New York variant||B.1.526||Iota||Variant of interest|
|Variant of India||B.1.617.1||Kappa||Variant of interest|
Geolocated terminology is widespread among infectious diseases. Zika and West Nile virus come from place names in Uganda. Ebola owes its name to an African river. Lyme disease is named after Lyme, Connecticut.
For more than a century, doctors have known about the dangers of binding a virus where it was first detected. Take the Spanish flu of 1918.
“It was not correct,” said Dr. Peter Chin-Hong, UC San Francisco infectious disease expert.
Although there is still no consensus on the origin of this H1N1 strain, it “is probably not from Spain,” Chin-Hong said. “Some people even think he is from the United States.”
WHO has said the Greek names are for the general public and will not replace the digital lineage names used by scientists like B.1.1.7 or B.1.351. Once the WHO flags a lineage as a ‘variant of interest’ or the more severe designation of ‘variant of concern’, the health organization will assign the variant a Greek letter.
Dr Chin-Hong said the new system certainly has advantages, but it also presents challenges. There are 24 Greek letters. WHO already has attributed 10 of them.
“There are so few [Greek letters] compared to the large number of variations created, ”he said. “It’s going to be, I think, difficult to keep track of what’s going on.”
Scientists have already experimented with Greek letters. In recent years, the World Meteorological Organization has turned to Greek letters for hurricane names after exhausting the English alphabet.
After a record number of storms in the 2020 season, WMO said the Greek letters were causing too much confusion and announced that it would no longer use them.
There is also the question of whether these Greek name variations can be widely adopted at this point in the pandemic.
“Many would say it’s too little, too late for some of the high-profile variants,” Dr Chin-Hong said.
While the public may find it difficult to adjust to a new name for variants that have been around for months, they unfortunately said there could be plenty of opportunities to introduce Greek names in the future. Many scientists believe that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could resurface every year like the flu.
“The saddest thing for me really is the fact that we even have to come up with a system that might run out of names because we have a transmission going on,” he said.