Special Report: World Tackles A/H1N1 Flu ¡¡
by Fei Liena, Yang Jun
BEIJING, May 2 (Xinhua) -- The world for the past
week has been rattled by a fast-spreading epidemic called "swine flu."
Because of that name, pigs no longer serve as "food"
in the eyes of some people and instead are viewed as "health killers."
Many people have stopped eating pork, several
countries have started to ban imports of the meat from Mexico and the United
States, and authorities in Egypt ordered the slaughter of about 3,000 pigs.
To ease pressure from the pork industry, however, the
World Health Organization on Thursday announced that it would begin referring to
the "swine flu" virus as "influenza A/H1N1."
Will the elimination of "swine" from the name of the
virus help ease people's fear of the meat?
Let's start from the beginning.
When the new virus mysteriously appeared in Mexico in
late April, an initial analysis showed swine flu virus in the combination. That
led to suspicions from researchers that the flu might come from hog farms and
that people might be infected by pigs.
The first patient -- a four-year-old boy in eastern
Mexico -- happened to live nearby a pig farm, making the public more certain
that the disease was transmitted from pigs to human beings.
The term "swine flu" thus was created by the media
and quickly accepted by the public.
However, the agriculture industry, the U.N. food
agency, and the World Organization for Animal Health repeatedly expressed
concern that the term was misleading and needlessly caused countries to ban pork
products and order the slaughter of pigs. The food industry also complained that
the name was causing an unjustified clampdown on the pork trade.
Bernard Vallat, director general of the Paris-based
OIE, told Xinhua recently that the virus actually is a strain of viruses
containing swine flu, human flu and bird flu. Because of that, he said, it was
inaccurate to call the virus swine flu.
Other authoritative agencies, including the WHO, kept
reminding the public that the virus was being spread from human to human, not by
contact with infected pigs. They also said that no pigs have been found to be
infected with the disease.
Scientists don't know exactly how the virus jumped to
humans and are working to find out the link, the WHO said.
WHO Director General Margaret Chan also emphasized
the safety of eating pork and pork products "if cooked properly."
"There's no reason why people who love to eat pork
should stop eating now," she said. "Please continue, with due precautions and
cook it well."
The OIE said Thursday that killing pigs "will not
help to guard against public or animal health risks" presented by the virus and
The real reason for a change in the name of the virus
has aroused suspicions. Was it changed purely for scientific accuracy? Or was it
a compromise to pressure from the pork industry or pork exporting countries? Or
As a report from The Associated Press points out,
many leading experts believe that no matter what you call the disease, the virus
that is scaring the world is pretty much all pig.
Dr. Raul Rabadan, a professor of computational
biology at Columbia University, said six of the strain's eight genetic segments
are purely swine flu and the other two are bird and human but have lived in pigs
for the past decade.
"It's clearly swine," said Henry Niman, president of
Recombinomics, a Pittsburgh company that tracks the evolution of viruses. "It's
a flu virus from a swine. There's no other name to call it."
Will the name change ease the public's fear of pigs?
Possibly. But more importantly, the public needs to be given transparent and
up-to-date progress about research on the virus. The more people know about what
they are dealing with, the less they will fear.