Virus Naming System: WHO

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    Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) Chief Scientist has clarified that the WHO would soon unveil a system of naming viruses.

    Current Virus Naming System

    • The WHO and health and science agencies across the world, for instance the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the US’s Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the Public Health England refer to viruses and their variants by formal lineage names.
    • Formal lineage names are a combination of letters and names that point to the relationships between different variants.
    • These suggest that variants have certain mutations in common and as well clues to their evolutionary history.
    • Since virus names and their associated diseases have frequently been named after geographical places where outbreaks were first reported or samples first isolated, they are also considered to be stigmatising.
      • For example, Covid-19 was earlier referred to as the ‘Wuhan virus’.
      • With the discovery of important variants of the virus being linked to increased infectiousness, B.1.1.7 started to be known as the ‘UK variant’ and B.1.351 as the ‘South African’ variant.
      • The strain B.1.617 was popularly called the ‘Indian variant’.

    (Image Courtesy: CDC)

    New Naming System

    • The new naming system will go live soon and would be inspired from the way cyclones are named.
    • This has been done to destigmatize and deincentivise countries from making their sequencing results public.
    • It will also be easier for the lay public to remember rather than the complicated lineage numbers.
    Naming of Cyclones

    • The names are maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).
    • WMO leaves it to countries that surround a particular ocean basin to come up with names that are then used by rotation. The cyclones are named neither after any particular person, nor with any preference in alphabetical sequence.
      • The practice began in 2004 and until then cyclones, like virus names, had alphabetical references.
    • Regional Specialised Meteorological Centres (RSMCs)
      • They are responsible for monitoring and prediction of tropical cyclones over their respective regions.
      • They are also responsible for naming the cyclones.
    • There is a strict procedure to determine a list of tropical cyclone names in an ocean basin(s) by the Tropical Cyclone Regional Body responsible for that basin(s) at its annual/biennial meeting. 
    • Significance of naming Cyclones
      • Helps to identify each individual cyclone. 
      • Facilitates disaster risk awareness, preparedness, management and reduction. 
      • Removes confusion where there are multiple cyclonic systems over a region.
      • Warnings reach a much wider audience very rapidly, if a name is associated with it.

    World Meteorological Organization

    • It is an intergovernmental organization with a membership of 193 Member States and Territories.
    • It was established by the ratification of the WMO Convention on 23rd March 1950.
    • It originated from the International Meteorological Organization (IMO), the roots of which were planted at the 1873 Vienna International Meteorological Congress.
    • It is the specialised agency of the United Nations for meteorology (weather and climate), operational hydrology and related geophysical sciences.
    • Headquarters: Geneva, Switzerland.

    Source: TH