During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918-19, which killed tens of millions of people, some Americans incorrectly blamed Germany — a World War I enemy — for the spread of the disease, calling it “a Hun of a disease” in some communities, Monica Schoch-Spana, a medical anthropologist at the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in an interview. Rumors and misinformation were rampant at the time, including the conspiracy theory that pro-German doctors and nurses were intentionally spreading the disease to soldiers at Camp Meade in Maryland.
The phrase “Spanish flu” is itself a misnomer: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say experts are still not sure where the disease originated.
More recent examples include the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, outbreak in 2003, which was first detected in the Chinese province of Guangdong and led to widespread discrimination against Asian-American communities in the United States.
The 2009 swine flu, or H1N1, outbreak originated in Mexico and led to accusations of racism against the Latino community. The illness was not transmitted through pigs, but China, Russia and other countries still banned pork imports. In Egypt, health officials ordered a mass slaughtering of hundreds of thousands of pigs, which were raised almost exclusively by the country’s Christian minority.
In this outbreak, Mr. Gosar and members of his congressional staff have been aggressive in pushing back against criticism of their use of “Wuhan virus.” They have also shared screenshots of news articles that used the term in headlines, many from the weeks before the virus received an official name.
“The only people who seem outraged by the term ‘Wuhan Virus’ are those whose primary goal is to continue” politicizing the outbreak, Ben Goldey, the congressman’s press secretary, wrote in an email on Monday. “Our priority is ensuring the health and safety of the American people, not debating the use of the term ‘Wuhan virus.’”
For Mr. Pompeo’s part, a State Department official said on Monday that the secretary was using this language to counter Chinese Communist Party disinformation. This echoes public remarks made by Mr. Pompeo, when he rejected a suggestion made last week by Zhao Lijian, a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, that the coronavirus may not have originated in China, and that it was “highly irresponsible” to connect the two.