A little more than a month ago, my colleague Gloria and I gave a Spanish Language Medical Terminology workshop about Allergies. When we finished, we still had time to spare so Gloria commented about how to interpret words and diseases that are difficult to translate. Graft-Versus-Host Disease (GVHD) was mentioned. Not only is it difficult to interpret in our language but in other languages as well. Some contradictions arose and my colleague, David, sparked my interested in learning more about GVHD. I decided to investigate and research more about this disease. First, I looked for my faithful Dictionary, many other books, and finally online.
This is what I found in one of the Dictionaries I was reading about this disease;
Excerpt from Medline plus Medical Encyclopedia:
“Graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is a complication that can occur after a stem cell or bone marrow transplant in which the newly transplanted donor cells attack the transplant recipient’s body. GVHD may occur after a bone marrow or stem cell transplant in which someone receives bone marrow tissue or cells from a donor (called an allogeneic transplant). The new transplanted cells regard the recipient’s body as foreign. When this happens, the newly transplanted cells attack the recipient’s body. GVHD does not occur when someone receives his or her own cells during a transplant (called autologous transplant).”
So what does that tell us about this disease?
In most transplants, the patient’s body may attempt to reject the transplanted organ (transplant rejection). However, in GVHD the reverse happens; immune cells from the transplant attack the patient’s cells.
I continued reading and found something very interesting regarding how to interpret this disease in Spanish. This English expression is usually translated as Graft-Versus-Host Disease, or GVHD. Considering that the orders of the words are reversed in Spanish, and nouns use prepositions instead of hyphens, the correct form would translate as disease graft-versus-host. This would change the acronym when translated into Spanish; the acronym would either be EICA (Enfermedad del injerto contra el anfitrion), EICH (Enfermedad del injerto contra el hospedador), or EICR (Enfermedad del injerto contra el receptor). These different acronyms can cause confusion and can be hard for specialists to recognize. So we must ask ourselves, why do we use an expression that is so long instead of coining a more descriptive term that’s easier to understand in multiple languages?
Finally, I’d like to tell you that because of the pressure of English, the expression GVHD is so common in practice that very few people will use any other acronym to describe the disease when writing about it.