Capitalizing disease names: why ebola is capitalized

Capitalizing Disease Names: Why Ebola Is Capitalized

There’s an epidemic in West Africa, and the dreaded “E” word is on everyone’s lips and keypads. But here’s a question: does the devastating disease deserve its capital E, and if so, why? When we write about salmonella or influenza (or flu for short), diabetes or rabies, we don’t crown the names of these deadly scourges with capital initial letters. Why does Ebola get special treatment?

The AP Stylebook explains it simply: “Capitalize a disease known by name of person or geographical area: Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Ebola virus.” Ebola was named after a tributary of the Congo River in Zaire (now called the Democratic Republic of the  Congo), near which the virus was first identified, so it can claim its status as a proper name for life.

And how should we pronounce the name of this awful virus? According to NPR’s standards and practices editor, Mark Memmott, as posted on NPR’s Tumblr, it should be “ee-BOH-luh” (rather than “eh-BOH-la”).

But as Memmott advised in his internal memo to NPR colleagues: “It’s important to note that this is guidance, not a dictate from on high. We want to say things correctly, but we also realize that we have correspondents from around the world and that when they speak they may say some things differently.

In this case, NPR’s Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is from Ghana. She says ‘eh-BOH-la.’ It’s natural to her. We wouldn’t want to try to force her to say ‘ee-BOH-luh’.” Ebola means “Black River” in Lingala, the language of the DRC’s northwestern region where the tributary can be found.

But since Zaire was a Belgian colony between 1908 and 1960, the name of the river has probably been pronounced historically in a French way — i.e.

“ay-BOH-luh” (with the sound of an acute accent on the initial E), so “eh” probably best approximates how the name’s first syllable sounded when the virus was first identified and named in the early ’70s. Oxford Dictionaries lists both pronunciations (“eh” and “ee”) in its pronunciation guide.

*   *   *

While we’re on the subject of naming diseases, here’s another question: is it necessary to keep the apostrophe and possessive ‘s’ in diseases named after those who discovered them? Down’s syndrome, Asperger’s syndrome, Parkinson’s disease and Crohn’s disease are a few examples; is it now more common to refer to them as Down syndrome or Crohn disease? The blog Separated by a common language explains that this actually depends nowadays on which side of the Atlantic you’re on: it’s a little-known British-American usage difference. Quoting Len Leshin, MD from the Down Syndrome: Health Issues site, Separated clarifies the thinking behind this curious usage development:

“Many medical conditions and diseases have been named after a person; this type of name is called an eponym. There has been a long-standing debate in the scientific community over whether or not to add the possessive form to the names of eponyms.

For quite a long time, there was no established rule as to which to use, but general usage decided which form is acceptable. So you saw both possessive and non-possessive names in use.”In 1974, a conference at the US National Institute of Health attempted to make a standard set of rules regarding the naming of diseases and conditions.

This report, printed in the journal Lancet, stated: “The possessive form of an eponym should be discontinued, since the author neither had nor owned the disorder.”(Lancet 1974, i:798) Since that time, the name has traditionally been called “Down syndrome” in North America (note that “syndrome” isn’t capitalized).

However, the change has taken longer to occur in Great Britain and other parts of Europe, for reasons that aren’t quite clear to me.”

  • For a fascinating history of Down’s syndrome and how it got its name (it was originally called “Mongolism”), read this post on Virtual Linguist.
  • *   *   *
  • Epidemic or endemic?

What exactly is the difference between epidemic and endemic? Although they’re often confused with each other, they have distinctly different meanings.

Why is Ebola capitalized? And how do you say it?

Capitalizing Disease Names: Why Ebola Is Capitalized

FILE – This undated file image made available by the CDC shows the Ebola Virus. As a deadly Ebola outbreak continues in West Africa, health officials are working to calm fears that the virus easily spreads, while encouraging those with symptoms to get medical care. (AP Photo/CDC, File)

After all, flu isn’t capitalized, and neither are chickenpox or measles.

Here’s why:

According to the World Health Organization, Ebola “first appeared in 1976 in 2 simultaneous outbreaks, one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in Yambuku, Democratic Republic of Congo. The latter occurred in a village near the Ebola River, from which the disease takes its name.”

And how do you pronounce it? According to a memo on Wednesday from NPR, it should be “ee-BOH-luh” but “eh-BOH-la” is OK if you’re Ofeibea Quist-Arcton.

  • (h/t Brian Ries)
  • Related: The readers’ quick guide for understanding a medical crisis
  • How journalists covering the Ebola outbreak try to stay safe
  • While reporting on Ebola, the smell of chlorine ‘is one of the most comforting smells in the world’
See also:  A national grammar day tale of love

Names | Cochrane Community

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention CDC CDCP
Embase Embase EMBASE
  • Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation
  • Note: the GRADE system is used to assess the quality of evidence in reviews, and 'Summary of findings' tables are generated using the GRADEpro GDT software.
  • Note: the abbreviation GRADE does not need to be defined in Cochrane Reviews (see Common abbreviations that do not need to be defined in the section on Abbreviations and acronyms).
  1. Grade
  2. GRADEproGDT
  3. GradeProGDT
Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses Note: the abbreviation PRISMA does not need to be defined in Cochrane Reviews (see Common abbreviations that do not need to be defined in the section on Abbreviations and acronyms). PRISMA Prisma
PubMed PubMed Pubmed PUBMED
World Health Organization WHO W.H.O. World Health Organisation
Web of Science Web of Science WOS Web of science

Note: the following table displays the correct spelling and formatting of terms names specific to Cochrane.

author or review author reviewer
co-author coauthor
Cochrane Note: in line with branding from January 2015 and to make things clear, impactful, and consistent we now refer to ourselves simply as ‘Cochrane’, in the singular. We no longer say 'The Cochrane Collaboration' (although that remains the legal name of the charity).
  • The Cochrane Collaboration the Cochrane Collaboration The Collaboration
  • the collaboration

Note: in certain circumstances (e.g. when referring to the full legal name of the organization, or when citing past Cochrane products, 'The Cochrane Collaboration' may be appropriate).

Cochrane Central Executive:

  • CEO's Office
  • Editorial & Methods Department
  • Knowledge Translation Department
  • Publishing, Research & Development
  • Finance Services
  • Informatics and Technology Services
  • People Services
  1. Central Editorial Unit
  2. Finance & Core Services
  3. Cochrane Editorial Unit
  4. IKMD Department
  5. Cochrane Organisational Unit
  6. Cochrane Secretariat
  7. Membership, Learning & Support Services
Cochrane Groups:

  • Fields
  • Methods Groups
  • Review Groups
  • Review Group Networks
  • Geographic Groups
    • Associate Centres
    • Centres
    • Geographic Networks
    • Affiliates

For individual Cochrane Groups, see:

  • Current Geographic Groups
  • Review Groups and Networks
  • Fields
  • Methods Groups
  • Cochrane groups
  • entities
  • Methods groups
  • Branches
the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) The Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL)
the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews Note: use italics for the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews only, not other databases included in the Cochrane Library. The Cochrane Database of Systematic ReviewsThe Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews
the Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions Note: can be referred to as 'the Handbook' in short after first mention title changed in version 4.2.4 from ‘Cochrane Reviewers’ Handbook’ to current format.
  1. Cochrane Reviewers’ Handbook
  2. The Cochrane Handbook for Systematic Reviews of Interventions
  3. The Handbook
the Cochrane Library (no italics)   '…in the Cochrane Library' The Cochrane Library the Cochrane Library '…on The Cochrane Library'
the Cochrane Editorial and Publishing Policy Resource
  • the Cochrane Editorial and Publishing Policy Manual The Cochrane Editorial and Publishing Policy Resource
  • the Cochrane Editorial and Publishing Policy Resource
the Cochrane Methodology Register The Cochrane Methodology Register
Cochrane Review protocol or protocol for a Cochrane Review 'protocol' starts with a lower case letter Cochrane Protocol or Cochrane Review Protocol
Cochrane Review Cochrane Systematic Review or Cochrane review
Cochrane Review Group Collaborative Review Group Cochrane Collaborative Review Group
the Cochrane Style Manual the Style Manual …in line with Cochrane style… Cochrane Style Basics the Cochrane Style manual the Cochrane Style Guide the style manual/the Style Guide …in line with Cochrane Style… Cochrane Style Manual Basics
Convenor Convener
Co-ordinating Editor Coordinating Editor
  1. Information Specialist (from 1 March 2016)
  2. Trials Search Co-ordinator (prior to 1 March 2016)  
  3. See Cochrane 'Trials Search Co-ordinators' are now 'Information Specialists’
Information specialist Trial Search Co-ordinator Trials Search Coordinator
Methodological Expectations of Cochrane Intervention Reviews (MECIR) Methodological expectations of Cochrane intervention reviews (Mecir)
MeerKat Meerkat
  • Review Manager 5
  • RevMan 5 (abbreviation)
  • RevMan Web
  1. ReviewManager
  2. Revman
  3. RevMan
  4. RevManWeb

Family names

  • Where names have designation of rank within a family, such as 'Jr' or 'III', place family designations of rank at the end of the name, without punctuation, and use Arabic ordinals rather than Roman numerals.
  • Examples (in text): write
  • 'James M LeMesurier, Jr' as 'James M LeMesurier Jr'
    'Roger G Smith III' as 'Roger G Smith 3rd'
  • Examples (in references section)
  • 'James M LeMesurier, Jr.' becomes 'LeMesurier JM Jr'
    'Roger G Smith III' becomes 'Smith RG 3rd'

Some family names have specific formatting, and there may be regional differences.

For consistency, in the text Chinese names should follow a Westernized style, that is, first name followed by the family name: first name/personal name (名字 míngzi) and family name/surname (姓 xìng). Formatting of Dutch family names should follow the style from the table below. It is advisable to seek confirmation from Cochrane authors before modifying.

General guidance on Dutch family names in the text

First name (or initial) before the family name van, de, der, and ter start with a lower-case letter 'Danielle van der Windt' or 'DA van der Windt'
Only family name used Van, De, Der, and Ter start with an upper-case letter 'Van der Windt'

Pharmaceutical drug names

Refer to pharmaceutical drugs using the Recommended International Nonproprietary Name (generic name; rINN; see note below), rather than the brand name.

This system helps avoid confusion where common names for drugs differ around the world; for example, acetaminophen is commonly used in the USA, but it is more commonly known as paracetamol (also the rINN) in the UK. If needed, however, place the brand name in brackets after the rINN.

A rINN should start with a lower-case letter, while a brand name starts with an upper-case letter. For example, the rINN for one type of antibiotic is ‘ciprofloxacin’. This could be presented as ‘ciprofloxacin’ alone or ‘ciprofloxacin (Ciproxin)’ if essential, but not as ‘Ciproxin’ alone.

Useful resources for locating or checking the rINN are the British National Formulary (which provides information on medicines prescribed in the UK), the WHO MedNet (which can be accessed for free upon registration), and the WHO Model Formulary (which provides comprehensive information on medicines in the WHO Model List of Essential Medicines).

Note: “International Nonproprietary Names (INN) facilitate the identification of pharmaceutical substances or active pharmaceutical ingredients.

Each INN is a unique name that is globally recognized and is public property. A nonproprietary name is also known as a generic name.

” World Health Organization, Essential Drugs and Medicine Policy, International Nonproprietary Names. (accessed 7 July 2015).

There is no need to use trademark symbols (® or ™) with brand names. These symbols (® for registered; ™ for unregistered) are intended for use by owners of brand names to assert their ownership in their own documentation and advertising.

There is no need to use these symbols with drug or product names in Cochrane Reviews, but brand names should always have an initial capital letter and correct spelling.

If there is potential misunderstanding or ambiguity about the status of a name, the text should make it clear that it is a brand name, with the company name added if needed.

Organism names

Names of organisms are given in the form Genus species (e.g. Plasmodium falciparum, Staphylococcus aureus). The genus name starts with an upper-case letter, and the species name is all lower case.

Both are italicized. Once an organism's name has been stated in full, use the abbreviated form thereafter. For the abbreviated form use the initial letter of the genus followed by the species name (e.g.

P falciparum, S aureus).

Virus names

Do not italicize a virus name when used generically or when referring to a strain (e.g. herpes simplex virus, influenza A (H1N1) virus), and do not use capital letters unless the virus name includes a proper noun (e.g. West Nile virus, Ebola virus). Italicize species, genus, and family of a virus when used in a taxonomic sense.

In this case, virus names should follow the rules of orthography of the International Committee on Taxonomy of Viruses (ICTV). The table below summarizes how to format virus names, but refer to for a full overview of ICTV recommendations.

 It is usually not necessary to mention the taxonomy of a virus if it is well known.

Formatting of virus names

Note: this information comes from where there are further examples of formatting rules and a full taxonomy index.

Type of term Formatting Examples
Virus order, family, subfamily, or genus Italics with first letter of the name capitalized Herpesvirales (order)Herpesviridae (family)Alphaherpesvirinae (subfamily)Simplexvirus (genus)
Species name Italics with the first letter of the first name capitalized. Never abbreviate species names. Exceptions: proper nouns, parts of proper nouns, or alphabetical identifiers may be capitalized even if they occur as the second word. Human alphaherpesvirus 1Mumps virusWest Nile virusInfluenza A virus Enterovirus A
Virus strain or generic name Not italicized and the first letter of the first word is not capitalized, unless it is a proper noun or includes alphabetical identifiers
  1. Ebola virus herpes simplex virus
  2. influenza A (H1N1) virus

Country and ethnic groups' names

Refer to the section on international considerations for guidance on country names and ethnic group names.

Do You Capitalize Disease Names Like Coronavirus?

The name of the coronavirus disease that emerged in late 2019 is not capitalized because most disease names aren't unless they are named after a person or a region.

For example, influenza, diabetes, and cancer also aren't capitalized.

The other official name for coronavirus disease is COVID-19, which is capitalized because it's an abbreviation for “COronaVIrus Disease-2019.”

Diseases Named After Regions Are Capitalized

Diseases that are named after regions are capitalized. For example, Ebola is the name of a river in Zaire,* and it was near the Ebola River that the virus first caused disease in humans. Thus, the disease became known as the Ebola virus.

“West Nile” in “West Nile virus” is capitalized for a similar reason: It was first found in a patient in the West Nile district of northern Uganda.

Diseases named after people or regions are capitalized.

Diseases Named After People Are Capitalized

Some disease names are capitalized because they are named after the person who discovered them. For example, Alzheimer’s disease is named after a German doctor named Alois Alzheimer. Other disease names are capitalized because they’re named after a person who had the disease, such as Lou Gehrig’s disease, which is also known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS.

'Alzheimer’s Disease' Versus 'Alzheimer Disease'?

Apostrophes are a related topic: When people start thinking about disease names, they often wonder why some have apostrophes and some don’t, and why you sometimes see the same name written both with and without an apostrophe.


Capitalization: Avoid unnecessary capitalization. Follow Chicago Manual of Style, 16th edition (

Accession Numbers

Do not capitalize accession number, and use the abbreviation no. instead of number when a specific number is provided.

GenBank accession numbers were recorded.

The isolate was deposited into GenBank under accession no. AA00000.

Other Capitalization Preferences

  • African American
  • AM, PM, BCE, CE: format in small caps
  • Arctic (when referring to region), arctic when referring to cold temperature. American
  • Heritage says “arctic or Arctic fox”; “arctic or Arctic tern,” in that order.

Biosafety Level. Abbreviate with hyphen (e.g., BSL-2).

  1. Black (when referring to persons)
  2. California encephalitis virus
  3. chikungunya virus
  4. ClustalW, ClustalX
  5. Eastern equine encephalomyelitis
  6. Ebola (named after the Ebola River in Zaire)
  7. federal
  8. formalin
  9. Guinea worm disease
  10. Gulf Coast
  11. Internet
  12. Legionnaires’ disease
  13. Mercurochrome
  14. o’nyong-nyong virus
  15. Pacific Coast
  16. QIAGEN
  17. Sin Nombre virus
  18. Southeast Asia
  19. Saint Louis encephalitis virus
  20. Suramin
  21. Teflon
  22. the Gambia
  23. the Netherlands
  24. The Hague
  25. Gram stain, gram-negative, gram-positive
  26. Venezuelan equine encephalomyelitis virus
  27. website
  28. West Africa
  29. Western equine encephalomyelitis virus
  30. Western Hemisphere
  31. Western blot
  32. White (when referring to persons)
  33. x-ray

Specific Designations

Do not capitalize words used as specific designations (case, group, series, patient), unless they begin a sentence or are part of a title or heading.

Trade names should generally be capitalized. Do not use ™ or ® with trade names.

Most words derived from proper nouns are not capitalized. Follow the Chicago Manual of Style (, except that black and white should be capitalized when referring to persons (e.g., Black case-patients, White persons).

Do not capitalize titles, such as chairman, president, professor, or director unless the term directly precedes a name (e.g., Professor Smith).

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Titles and Headings

  • Capitalize the first letter of all words except articles, coordinating conjunctions, and prepositions (regardless of length).
  • Never capitalize “to” in a title or a heading, either as a preposition or infinitive.
  • Lowercase “that” as a subordinating conjunction but capitalize as a relative pronoun.
  • Evidence that Penicillin-Resistant Strains Are Common
  • Strains That Are Resistant to Penicillin
  • Capitalize the second word in hyphenated terms ending in acquired, associated, resistant, susceptible, sensitive, related, and similar words.
  • Penicillin-Resistant Gonorrhea
  • Methicillin-Susceptible Staphylococcus aureus
  • Bite-associated Infection
  • Community-acquired Infection
  • Capitalize hyphenated or dashed words of equal weight.
  • Case–Control Study
  • Human–Animal Interactions
  • Cat-Scratch Disease, Rat-Bite Fever
  • If a word in a title (or other word that would ordinarily be capitalized, as at the beginning of a sentence or the first word in a table cell) begins with a lowercase Greek letter, capitalize the first non-Greek letter after it.
  • β-Lactamase–Inhibitor Combinations
  • Titles of books and journals are neither italicized nor placed within quotation marks.
  • Lowercase specific epithets in the scientific names of organisms in titles as you would in running text: Escherichia coli.

If a symbol begins a heading (e.g., column heading in table), capitalize the next word.

% Infected

% Patients

Lowercase all letters in email addresses. Lowercase all letters in URLs unless necessary for the URL to work properly (e.g., PDF file names).

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