It’s the Cool Thing to Do.
Before you guys give me weird looks, and I know that some of you already are, be aware that my mind tends to wander like a vagrant who won the lottery and decided to spend it all on booze — and then proceeded to become horribly, horribly drunk in a short period of time. Today my brain decided that it wanted to come up with a new name for the plague in my novel, and while it failed horribly at that task, it did come up with this handy little guide for you.
Identify Your Concept
In order to effectively name your microscopic monster, it helps to understand what an infection is.
Infection – The term actually refers to several things. An infection is the invasion of a host organism by an infectious agent, the multiplication of that agent and the reaction of the host organism (usually an immune response). If the host is unable to ward off the invader, and cannot receive effective outside treatment, then disease will develop.
Plague – It is popularly defined as a general term for any disease that kills large numbers of an organism (usually people) and spreads quickly. The word also specifically refers to the Bubonic Plague (Black Death) that wiped out a third of Europe’s population in the 1300’s and any instance of it as it exists in modern times. Plague in the verb form means “to cause continuous trouble or distress”.
Epidemic – An epidemic is when a large number of people in a certain area become infected with a disease. The area can be localized like a town, or more widespread like a single country. Epidemics can be seasonal, usually caused by an agent that’s already circulating within a population, and occurring when the actual infection rate is greater than the expected.
Pandemic – A pandemic is the spread of infectious disease on a large scale. It must be more than one country and can extend across the globe. Pandemics are caused by agents that haven’t existed in populations, usually new virus strains or subtypes of existing strains, and are deadly.
What Causes Infectious Disease?
Infectious diseases are simply defined as diseases that can be spread between people (or other organisms) through some form of contact. They have the ability to attack one or multiple body systems. Here’s the list that I came up with for infectious agents:
- Parasites including flat, round, tape, hook and pin worms, as well as flukes.
- Fungi like mold, usually via inhalation of spores or skin contact.
- Protazoa, for instance the “brain-eating” amoeba naegleria fowleri.
- Prions, which are proteins in a mis-folded form. An example would be bovine spongiform encephalopathy or mad cow disease. Like viruses, prions aren’t actually alive but are able to reproduce by hijacking the processes of a cell.
- Food and Water.
- Blood and other bodily fluids like droplets of saliva.
- Direct contact with an infected person, or in some cases a surface or object that an infected person has touched.
- Through bites, scratches or other injuries from a vector (a mosquito is an example).
Give it a Name!
Now that we’ve covered the basics, how do names for infectious diseases, as well as those that aren’t, come about?
What Wonderful Buboes You Have! – Sometimes diseases are named after specific telling symptoms. The Bubonic Plague was named after the swelling of lymph nodes, turning them into oozing nodules called buboes. It was also called the Black Death due to the acral (extremities like the fingertips) gangrene that it caused, killing the skin and turning it black, as well as the fact that the buboes often filled with blood, causing them to appear darker. Another example of a disease named after a symptom would be scarlet fever, which causes red rashes on the tongue and skin.
The Discovery Is MINE – Diseases can be named after the person who first discovered it, a notable person infected with it and/or someone who died from it. For example amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (motor neuron disorder, not an infectious disease) is commonly called Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the baseball player who was kiled by it. For a list of diseases named after people, check the Wikipedia page.
It Came From a Jungle – Or wherever else. Some diseases are named for their place of origin. Good examples are the West Nile Virus and Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, both named for rivers in the regions of Africa where they were found. For one possibly closer to home, try Lyme. It was born out of Connecticut from the towns of Lyme and Old Lyme.
Ride the Pig! – On occasion, pathogens like to hop the “species barrier” and infect humans. These diseases are often named for their creature of origin. Recent examples would be the Swine Flu or the Bird Flu.
Named By Science – And by science I mean derived from Latin or Greek words, though sometimes scientists also use abbreviations, acronyms or flat out make things up as far as naming goes. The majority of infectious diseases sport common names used by the general public and scientific names based on the specific pathogen that causes the disease. For example, bacteria are often classified and named based on their shapes. There are three main shape categories for bacteria, though others exist. They are coccus (round), bacillus (rod)and spirillum (spiral). Some bacteria are also found in certain cluster arrangements, of which there are three main ones: diplo- (pairs), strepto- (chains) and staphylo- (resembles a bunch of grapes). So, the scientific name for pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Sometimes pathogens will have acronyms, like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). And sometimes, they’ll have simple scientific names like the dengue virus that causes dengue fever.
Now go forth! Conquer that mental block and create a name for your plague that will strike fear in the hearts of all of your soon-to-be victims!