The flu formerly known as swine

What’s in a name?

We’ve moved beyond the “panic” stories to the politically tinged debates over what to call that nasty virus traversing the globe.

World Health Organization officials today begin referring to the virus formerly known as swine flu as “influenza A (H1N1).” (Though the WHO has shown it isn’t above industry meddling.)

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has this note posted on one of its flu pages:

This is a rapidly evolving situation and current guidance and other web content may contain variations in how this new H1N1 virus of swine origin is referred to.

Over the coming days and weeks, these inconsistencies will be addressed, but in the interests of meeting the agency’s response goals, all guidance will remain posted and new guidance will continue to be issued.

But they might have trouble switching things up as they’ve been giving out as the site for information.

The City of St. Paul just sent out a press release titled “Information available on H1N1 (swine) flu threat.”

Then there’s the World Organization for Animal Health which, so far, has the most novel approach:

No current information in influenza like animal disease in Mexico or the USA could support a link between human cases and possible animal cases including swine. The virus has not been isolated in animals to date. Therefore, it is not justified to name this disease swine influenza. In the past, many human influenza epidemics with animal origin have been named using geographic name, eg Spanish influenza or Asiatic influenza, thus it would be logical to call this disease “North-American influenza“.

MPR received a letter from a pork producer representative that laid bare the industry’s objections to calling it swine flu:

[Please] reference the present flu virus by its appropriate name, the 2009 N1H1 flu.

Referring to the present flu virus as “swine flu” is not only damaging to MN pork producers, but demonstrates an uneducated, reckless approach, which is undoubtedly uncharacteristic of MN Public Radio.

The negative connotations to swine, unfairly made and scientifically unsupported, affect consumer confidence and therefore have a significant negative impact on pork production.

There is scientific evidence that the virus is genetically connected to pigs, but you cannot get the flu by eating pork products. It’s not like we’re not calling it bacon flu, though. To be fair, when your industry is under sudden and near total onslaught, you have a right to be defensive.

When it comes down to it, the media, at least for now, will likely stick with swine flu.

Today on Talk of the Nation, host Neal Conan was asked by a caller why he was not using the term “correct” term of H1N1. Said Conan, “We call it swine flu because that’s what people call it.”

So… what do you call it?