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Maybe swine flu isn't the right name *

April 28, 2009 |  2:01 pm

Swine Swine flu by any other name is still swine flu. But that hasn't stopped federal health officials from bemoaning the name of the illness that has set the world on edge.

The name, says Dr. Richard Besser, acting director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has caused a number of misconceptions on the part of the public. It's sad to think that, in addition to everything else this guy has to worry about, the name is plaguing him too. 

"There's a lot of discussion around what to call this," Besser said this morning in a media briefing. "In the public, we've been seeing a fair amount of misconception that by calling it swine flu there could be transmission from pork products. That's not helpful. That's not helpful to pork producers."

Some people hear the name and think it's an illness that only infects swine. The virus can spread among swine and can be transmitted from swine to humans. Its latest genetic mutation, however, appears to have allowed it to spread human-to-human. "When it's described as swine flu, [it means that] that's the origin of the strain or one of the components of the strain and not a reflection on how the disease is spread currently," Besser said.

The agency is considering using a different name. But, if you ask me, that will cause even more confusion. Besides, what would you change the name to?

* Reuters newswire just reported that Israel will refer to swine flu as "Mexico flu." "We won't call it swine flu," Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman said at a news conference Monday. Under Jewish dietary laws, pigs are considered unclean and pork is not eaten.

* April 30: It turns out "swine flu" wasn't the right name after all. The proper name for swine flu is now H1N1 influenza A. Wow, that has a nice right to it, huh? Federal health officials have been uncomfortable with the name swine flu for several days because of pressure from the pork industry. Today, the World Health Organization said it would stop using "swine flu" to avoid confusion over the perceived danger posed by pigs. Apparently, the slaughter of thousands of pigs in Egypt by order of the government created sufficient urgency about changing the name. Given how "swine flu" seems to have already stuck, however, the L.A. Times will still use the name while making a graceful transition to the more appropriate H1N1.

-- Shari Roan

Photo credit: Charlie Neibergall / Associated Press

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