Debate rages on name change for swine flu, WHO says no

April 29th, 2009 - 11:42 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, April 29 (DPA) The international health community and pork producers are debating a change in name for the swine flu virus that has left people sick in several countries and could be responsible for 152 deaths in Mexico.
Swine flu has genetic elements that come from three species - pigs, birds and humans. “What do we call this? By calling it swine flu, it implies transmission from pork products and that’s not helpful to those who produce pork and those who eat pork,” said Richard Besser, acting director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

“We’re discussing if there’s a better way to describe this virus, which would not lead to inappropriate actions. Swine flu is the origin of one of the components of the strain and not how this disease is spread,” Besser told reporters.

The European Commission is proposing changing the name of the virus to “novel flu” out of fears that the name swine flu might put people off eating EU-produced pork. Other suggestions have ranged from Mexican influenza to North American flu.

In Washington, Tom Vilsack, US Secretary of Agriculture, demanded Tuesday: “Change the name of this flu! It’s H1N1!”

He said that close monitoring of the nation’s pork industry shows no illness among pigs.

But the World Health Organization (WHO) is clear that the name swine flu is here to stay.

Keiji Fukuda, WHO assistant director-general for health security, said the UN agency was sticking with its term “swine influenza” for the virus, in spite of calls to institute a change, and said he hoped there would be no “undue confusion”.

“This episode started with that name, and the virus that is identified is a swine influenza virus. We don’t have any plans to try to introduce any new names for this disease,” he said.

The link to pigs is hindering business, pork producers claim. Mexico is believed to be the epicentre of the global outbreak and five US states have reported swine flu cases - New York, California, Ohio, Texas and Kansas.

In response to action by some countries like China that have banned pork from Mexico and some US states, the WHO reaffirmed that it did not recommend such moves.

“There is no danger from eating pork. If you cook pork well, any meat well, it kills any virus,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl said.

EU health experts in Brussels said the bloc does not import any pork from the infected areas.

Ukraine put into effect a total ban on the import of live pigs from any country and of raw pork products from Mexico, New Zealand, Canada and some US states.

China’s agriculture ministry and quality watchdog issued a joint notice Monday suspending all imports of live pigs or products containing pork from Mexico and Texas, California and Kansas.

Vilsack attributed falling pork, soy and corn prices to unfounded worldwide fears of eating pork meat, warning that trade repercussions from swine flu on top of the current world recession could be disastrous.

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