Blaming others for infections

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Blaming others for infections

The author is the head of the welfare and administration team of the JoongAng Ilbo.

France, under Charles VIII, invaded Italy in 1494. An army of 50,000 soldiers recruited from Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Britain and Poland claimed occupancy over the Kingdom of Naples in February in the following year. The army was infamous for profligacy and exploitation of the occupant territory.

When the soldiers returned home, they spread a lethal disease across Europe. The mysterious illness usually started with itchiness of sexual organs, before developing into the destruction in internal organs. The illness, which was variously called the French disease, Italian disease, Spanish disease, Naples disease or Polish disease at the time, turned out to be syphilis.

In “Man and Microbes,” author Arno Karlen expounded on the biological and social causes of plagues throughout history. Syphilis replaced leprosy to symbolize evil and contamination. People named it after the countries believed to be the source.

The coinage of an infectious disease usually reflects abhorrence.

The new coronavirus was first called the Chinese pneumonia or Wuhan pneumonia before it was finally named Covid-19. The Moon Jae-in administration advised against reference to the original location by following the guidance of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The government, which has been meticulous in following the WHO’s recommendation, committed a gaffe by referring to the epidemic as “Daegu Covid-19” in a joint press statement issued on Feb. 20. The government explained it was a typo.

Daegu demanded a formal apology from the government and even warned of taking legal action when the disease began being referred to as the Daegu virus in the media. Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin pleaded not to use the pain and suffering of the Daegu citizens for political purposes.

In “Illness as Metaphor,” author Susan Sontag said, “Illness is the night side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and the kingdom of the sick.” If politics get into the naming of an infectious disease, it can look cowardly as it only can be seen as an attempt to find scapegoats.
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