The name swine flu might be catchy, but it's not accurate and it's causing unnecessary problems and concerns, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and USDA.
Homeland Security officials today announced that the virus name would be changed to the Influenza A (H1N1) virus. Specifically, Janet Napolitano, Homeland Security secretary, has repeatedly and pointedly referred to the new strain, and outbreak, as H1N1. USDA Secretary Vilsack also is recommending the name changed to eliminate the public confusion about this illness and to more accurately characterize it as a human-to-human transmitted virus.
The problem, the agencies point out is that the name "swine flu" implies a problem with pork products and the swine herd. So far, this new variant of H1N1 influenza has not been identified in any North American swine.
“The influenza virus currently being found is not carried in pigs and therefore is not in any pork products," officials point out.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that it has not found any evidence to indicate that any of the illnesses resulted from contact with pigs. Furthermore, influenza is a respiratory health issue and is in no way transmissible via food products. The virus has a short life span and is very sensitive to drying and heat.
Several countries have halted imports of U.S. pork products, action that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has warned is unwarranted and could meet with further trade challenges.
Vilsack said at a news briefing today that he is concerned that misunderstandings could have a negative impact on U.S. farmers who supply pork products to people around the world. He emphasized that the U.S. pork industry is sound and that consumers everywhere should know that U.S. pork products are safe.
The real challenge will be in getting the media and general public to understand and use the more accurate new name for the influenza cases.
For more information about the swine flu, visit Pork Magazine's Swine Influenza special section.