H5N1 virus

WHO shows political correctness in renaming flu virus strains

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 April, 2008, 12:00am

How is this for power? The names of various strains of the deadly bird flu virus have been changed to give them a more politically correct nomenclature, following protests by Beijing. When they first emerged, a group of H5N1 bird flu viruses came to be known as 'Fujian-like' and their cousins were called 'Qinghai-like', named after the provinces where they were first identified.

Health authorities in Beijing, for obvious reasons, voiced objections in 2006 to using Chinese places to identify the viruses, some strains of which spread across Asia and became resistant to vaccines. They complained that places such as Fujian and Qinghai were being unfairly tainted by their association with a deadly virus. The World Health Organisation has relented and the Fujian-like group has acquired the innocuous name of Clade 2.3.4, while Qinghai-like becomes Clade 2.2. They are part of a complete revision of H5N1 nomenclature recommended by the WHO. A clade is any taxonomic group comprising a single common ancestor and all its descendants. The WHO said the new system should help avoid the 'stigmatising labelling of clades by geographical reference'. However, it said work on revising the virus-naming system began before the protests and that it was driven by scientific logic rather than politics. The highly lethal H5N1 viruses are classified by their genetic sequences, which have 10 distinct branches of the virus' family tree.

The new system immediately tells scientists the viral subgroup a strain belongs to in the family tree.

Now, if only the SAR government could muster the same clout and demand world medical authorities rename Sars!