Friday, September 04, 2009

Vilsack voices anger about 'swine flu' references; how about we just call it 'new flu'?

"Many media outlets" still refer to H1N1 influenza as "swine flu," and that angers Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack because of the negative effect on the stressed hog market, Julie Harker of Brownfield Network reports.

When Harker asked Vilsack if he was "dismayed" about it, he replied, “Dismayed would not be a proper characterization of how I feel. It’s anger . . . because there are real people behind this . . . the farm families that are working hard every day trying to put food on our table. They need all the help they can get. The last thing they need is to have somebody -- just because it’s easier, just because it’s a little bit catchier -- using the wrong term and hurting them.” (Read more)

Yes, "swine" has just one syllable and paints a familiar mental picture, so it's a much more popular adjective (especially with broadcasters) than the four-syllable "H1N1." But perhaps there's an alternative. The full technical name for the new flu is "Novel H1N1," meaning that it's the latest form of a long-identified type. Some distinction is necessary in news reports because seasonal flu is also going around, and vaccinations for it have begun. Associated Press photo by Brian Ray: Ruthann Schrock administers a standard flu vaccine to Will Ross in Iowa Monday during a clinical trial on when the H1N1 vaccine should be given.

Seems to us that the simplest distinction is "old" flu and "new" flu, with the first reference to the latter being "the new H1N1 flu." Some media in other countries, including Taiwan, like the "new flu" term. The usually helpful Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers little help on its Web site, as far as we can tell. At a press briefing on May 1, a CDC official acknowledged that the agency's initial use of the technical term "swine associated flu" had, well, gone viral: "Sometimes we use terms that have unintended consequences. So I would say that we're in a transition state where we're trying to get away from the word swine, because we know that isn't -- it's not exposure to swine that is the way that people in the United States are getting this infection." For the transcript, click here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Secretary Vilsack knows the difference between a country pig and a corporate pig. But he also knows that the latter, found in the corporate hog factories portrayed in the film "Food, Inc", is much heavier in political finance than his country cousin.