Public Health

'Swine Flu' From Here To Eternity?

It's not only the desire to avoid offending Muslims and Jews that is driving the US government's concerted effort to avoid the term "swine flu" for what is bedeviling us.

The pig farmers are perhaps an equally important constituency.

Here's what US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said yesterday on CNN: "This isn't swine flu, it's H1N1 virus. That's very important, because markets...are very sensitive. They react to positive news. They also react to negative news. The livelihoods of a lot of people are at stake here."

The problem with calling this "H1N1" is that that's the general moniker of one of the seasonal flu viruses circulating this year (and in other years). This new virus is a different kind of H1N1.

Scientists say there's no question where this virus came from — it was a pig virus. That's what its genes tell them. "This was originally a new swine influenza virus," Dr. Keiji Fukuda of the World Health Organization said today (4/29). "But it is now behaving more or less like a human influenza virus, with transmission going from person to person."

So what should we call it now? The brand-new Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sibelius, is calling it "the 2009 H1N1 flu virus."

Good luck to her in getting that on everybody's lips. My bet is that we'll be calling it "swine flu" for the rest of eternity.

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