Despite not originating in Spain, the 1918 influenza pandemic is commonly known as the “Spanish flu”-a name that reflects a tendency in public health history to associate new infectious diseases with foreign nationals and foreign countries. Intentional or not, an effect of this naming convention is to communicate a causal relationship between foreign populations and the spread of infectious disease, potentially promoting irrational fear and stigma. I address two relevant issues to help contextualize these naming practices. First is whether, in an age of global hyperinterconnectedness, fear of the other is truly irrational or has a rational basis. The empirical literature assessing whether restricting global airline travel can mitigate the global spread of modern epidemics suggests that the role of travel may be overemphasized. Second is the persistence of xenophobic responses to infectious disease in the face of contrary evidence. To help explain this, I turn to the health communication literature. Scholars argue that promoting an association between foreigners and a particular epidemic can be a rhetorical strategy for either promoting fear or, alternatively, imparting a sense of safety to the public.
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