Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What's in a name?

Recent reports of a superbug from India named ‘New Delhi Metallo-beta-lactamase 1’ or NDM-1 are generating criticism from Indian leadership. Director General of Health Services R. K. Srivastava takes issue with naming the bug after the region and for its jab at antibiotics policy.

Srivastava "strongly refuted the naming of the enzyme as New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase and also refuted that hospitals in India are not safe for treatment including medical tourism."

Medical tourism is growing in nations like India and Pakistan, and concern around a superbug specifically associated with the area could put the entire industry at risk. The UK Department of Health responded to the Lancet journal article by issuing an alert about the New Delhi superbug.

Controversy in naming diseases and organisms is not a new phenomenon; the World Health Organization (WHO) proceeded with caution in naming the SARS virus.

David Heymann of the WHO’s SARS team said, “We did not want to stigmatize particular areas, it could not be called Hong Kong Flu or Hanoi flu.” The WHO finally decided on the acronym SARS, which stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome,” not realizing that “SARS” was similar to the common acronym SAR which is used to describe Hong Kong as the “Special Administrative Region.”

The problem also affects animals; naming diseases after animal species (e.g. bird flu, swine flu) can result in stigmatizing livestock, and result in their mass slaughter.

So, we’re left with letters and numbers. MBL-1, anyone?

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