The public needs to know how to recognize, report and contain the COVID-19 coronavirus if we are to bring the current pandemic under control. However, accurate dissemination of this crucial information among deaf communities is a problem because no universal signing vocabulary exists for the virus. We urge the World Health Organization to create an international signing convention for the coronavirus and the COVID-19 disease it causes.

We found that 15 or more different signs are currently being used to designate the coronavirus in countries affected by the pandemic. Brazil alone uses at least three. Some of these signs are based on unscientific variants that might, for example, evoke fear of an animal’s bite. Even providing written information is unreliable because of the different levels of understanding of Portuguese — deaf citizens’ second language — among communities.

Such haphazard communication is not acceptable. It stands to perpetuate misinformation and to foster misguided actions by the people affected — putting themselves and all of society at risk.