Swine Flu -- or H1N1 Influenza A
The WHO and governments around the world are trying their best to change the way the media refer to swine flu – they want to call it H1N1 Influenza A. That is much wordier than swine flu and the simpler name will probably continue to be used in common parlance, but I think the governments actually have a point. The simple reason is accuracy: The new virus has elements of avian flu, swine flu and human flu, so the oversimplification of the name has led countries such as Egypt to unnecessarily slaughter thousands of pigs, when doing so does absolutely nothing to reduce the risk of infection.
Some oversimplification is probably inevitable during an outbreak, but it almost always has bad effects. Many people in Mexico, for example, feel they are being blamed for the swine flu outbreak. Dubbing outbreaks with simplistic names – Asian flu, Hong Kong flu, even “NAFTA flu”– results in fingerpointing. Worst of all, such name-calling punishes countries that set up good surveillance systems and pick up on disease outbreaks, and rewards countries that are cavalier about public health. (If no one knows you have an outbreak, no one can say you were responsible for “starting it.”)
When it comes to global public health, we sink or swim together. Scientific names are accurate, but they also give people around the world the sense we are all in this together against a common foe – which happens to be true.
Posted by: karljones | April 30, 2009 10:43 PM | Report abuse
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