Brain waves not a factor in naming COVID-19 variants

CLAIM: They named the new COVID-19 variants after brain wave frequencies.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. COVID-19 virus variants are not named after brain wave frequencies. Both virus variants and brain wave frequencies are named using letters from the Greek alphabet. But the names have no connection.

THE FACTS: As news about the delta COVID-19 variant made headlines, posts online began falsely claiming that the new variants were being named after brain waves or frequencies. Some posts falsely claimed this connection had to do with a secret conspiracy to control humans through technology.

For example, posts suggested that one COVID-19 variant was named delta because it largely impacts children, and they claimed that delta is a brain wave specific to children.

But delta waves are actually more closely associated with deep sleep.

“Sleep is critical for development so in a contorted way you could say kids have more delta waves,” said David McCormick, professor of biology and director of the Institute of Neuroscience at the University of Oregon.

The brain has billions of neurons that are all oscillating or generating brief signals, which are also known as brain waves. The first brain wave or oscillation of the brain that was discovered was the alpha rhythm, which is the rhythm prominent in the visual cortex when you close your eyes, McCormick said.

The delta COVID-19 variant was first discovered in India and is known for being more transmissible than other variants. But the variant did not get its name as part of a plot to control brains.

The delta variant was named after the World Health Organization announced in May it would change its system for labeling COVID-19 variants.

The Greek alphabet is often used for naming purposes in math and science, not just for brain waves.

Before the change, COVID-19 variants were referred to by the location where they were found along with complex alphanumeric identifiers that have to do with how a given variant has descended from those that came before. For example, a variant found in South Africa was known as the South Africa variant, or B.1.351.

In order to get away from naming variants after their locations, which WHO said was “stigmatizing and discriminatory,” the system was changed, and the Greek alphabet was selected as the source for labeling.

“WHO will assign labels for those variants that are designated as Variants of Interest or Variants of Concern by WHO,” the agency said on its website.

The variants will now be publicly named alpha (B.1.7), beta (B.1.351), gamma (P.1) and delta (B.1.617.2).

In 2015, WHO issued guidance on naming new infectious diseases.

“The use of names such as ‘swine flu’ and ‘Middle East Respiratory Syndrome’ has had unintended negative impacts by stigmatizing certain communities or economic sectors,” Dr. Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security, said in anews releaseat the time. “We’ve seen certain disease names provoke a backlash against members of particular religious or ethnic communities, create unjustified barriers to travel, commerce and trade, and trigger needless slaughtering of food animals.”


This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.

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