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Hate Swine Flu's Name? How About Calling it Jake?

Debate continues over how to refer to the new H1N1 flu outbreak. One Nebraska Senator has his own idea about how to name influenza viruses.

Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson, a Democrat, expressed concerns over the financial hit the pork industry has taken because the H1N1 virus is referred to as swine flu. Nelson offered his own virus-naming system.

"Maybe we ought not to name them such as avian or bird flu or swine flu and just name them like names like we do hurricanes — it could be for example flu Jake or something like that," Nelson said.

Dr. Steve Hinrichs, chair of the department of pathology and microbiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, explains that viruses get named based on their origin. In this case a certain amount of genetic material has been traced back to a pig.

But he says Nelson's idea isn't out of the question.

"How will that happen? Most often in the U.S. the way it's done is an influential individual like the senator (Nelson) would ask perhaps the Institute of Medicine to convene a committee to create that kind of a standard," Hinrichs said. "My suspicion (is that) a couple more encouraging words from (Nelson) and that's the sort of thing that probably will happen."

At this point Nelson hasn't introduced any legislation on changing the way viruses are named.

(Masters is a producer at NET Radio, Nebraska's NPR station. Listen to his radio report here.)

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