Friday, May 1, 2009

Swine Flu, H1N1, Mexico Flu

Things used to be simpler.

Names of strains of influenza were often based on their geographic origins. Although the names weren't always accurate as far as where the viruses really originated, there didn't seem to be such a struggle to arrive at a name for a flu strain.

Examples:

Spanish Flu (1918-1919)

Hong Kong Flu (1968-1969)

Russian Flu (1977-1978)

Beijing Flu (1993-1994)

Sydney Flu (1998-1999)

I don't know why the current flu outbreak isn't being called the Mexican Flu or Mexico Flu.

I think it should be.

It's not like it's a derogatory term.

Were residents of Sydney or Beijing or Russia or Hong Kong or Spain offended because viruses were named after those places?

It's not like the places suffer irreparable damage. The Olympics were held in Sydney and Beijing. Those cities weren't shunned by the world as dens of disease.

If this flu had been called the Mexico Flu instead of the swine flu, perhaps people wouldn't be afraid to eat pork. Countries wouldn't be banning pork products from Mexico and the U.S. Pigs wouldn't be slaughtered in an attempt to prevent the illness.

People are not thinking. They aren't behaving logically. There's a lot of emotion and panic driving the reaction to this flu outbreak.

GENEVA -- The World Health Organization announced Thursday it will would stop using the term "swine flu" to avoid confusion over the danger posed by pigs. The policy shift came a day after Egypt began slaughtering thousands of pigs in a misguided effort to prevent swine flu.

WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said the agriculture industry and the U.N. food agency had expressed concerns that the term "swine flu" was misleading consumers and needlessly causing countries to ban pork products and order the slaughter of pigs.

"Rather than calling this swine flu ... we're going to stick with the technical scientific name H1N1 influenza A," Thompson said.

The swine flu virus originated in pigs, and has genes from human, bird and pig viruses. Scientists don't know exactly how it jumped to humans. In the current outbreak, WHO says the virus is being spread from human to human, not from contact with infected pigs.

Egypt began slaughtering its roughly 300,000 pigs Wednesday even though experts said swine flu is not linked to pigs and not spread by eating pork. Angry farmers protested the government decree.

In Paris, the World Organization for Animal Health said Thursday "there is no evidence of infection in pigs, nor of humans acquiring infection directly from pigs."

Killing pigs "will not help to guard against public or animal health risks" presented by the virus and "is inappropriate," the group said in a statement.

China, Russia, Ukraine and other nations have banned pork exports from Mexico and parts of the United States, blaming swine flu fears.

The poor pigs. The killing is completely irrational.

A few days ago, Israel decided to go with Mexico Flu rather than swine flu because of religious considerations.

From Haaretz:

Ultra-Orthodox Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman on Monday declared that Israel would call the new potentially deadly disease that has already struck two continents 'Mexico Flu,' rather than 'Swine Flu, as pigs are not kosher.

"We will call it Mexico flu. We won't call it swine flu," Litzman told a news conference on Monday, assuring the Israeli public that authorities were prepared to handle any cases.

The pork industry isn't happy about the swine flu moniker.
WASHINGTON -- "Scientifically this is a swine virus," said top virologist Dr. Richard Webby, a researcher at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. Webby is director of the WHO Collaborating Center for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza Viruses in Lower Animals and Birds. He documented the spread a decade ago of one of the parent viruses of this strain in scientific papers.

"It's clearly swine," said Henry Niman, president of Recombinomics, a Pittsburgh company that tracks how viruses evolve. "It's a flu virus from a swine, there's no other name to call it."

Dr. Edwin D. Kilbourne, the father of the 1976 swine flu vaccine and a retired professor at New York Medical College in Valhalla, called the idea of changing the name an "absurd position."

The name swine flu has specific meaning when it comes to stimulating antibodies in the body and shouldn't be tinkered with, said Kilbourne, 88.

That's not what government health officials say.

"We have no idea where it came from," said Michael Shaw, a director of laboratory science for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Everybody's calling it swine flu, but the better term is 'swine-like.' It's like viruses we have seen in pigs, it's not something we know was in pigs."

On Wednesday, U.S. officials not only started calling the virus 2009 H1N1 after two of its genetic markers, but Dr. Anthony Fauci the National Institutes of Health corrected reporters for calling it swine flu. Then on Thursday, the WHO said it would stop using the name swine flu because it was misleading and triggering the slaughter of pigs in some countries.

Another reason the U.S. government wants to ditch the swine label is that many people are afraid to eat pork, hurting the $97 billion U.S. pork industry. Even the experts who point to the swine genetic origins of the virus agree that people can't get the disease from food or handling pork, even raw.

"Calling this swine flu, when to date there has been no connection between animals and humans, has the potential to cause confusion," Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board, said in a news release.

I think it will be tough to get away from calling the illness swine flu. That's going to stick. It's been dubbed swine flu and received so much attention in the media as swine flu.

People don't act rationally in situations like this. They're avoiding pork and rushing to hospital emergency rooms for no good reason. It's nuts.

When has naming a flu been such a point of contention?

I don't think H1N1 will catch on, no matter how often it's said.

I wish it would just go away, whatever you want to call it.

I'm not in the mood for a pandemic.

1 comment:

manny paul said...

Mexico City has banned restaurants and cafes from serving all food except takeaways in a bid to help prevent the spread of the deadly swine flu virus...
Mexico prepares for swine flu shutdown