Is "swine flu" the most politically incorrect phrase in the English language?

I agree with one thing that Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst of The Global Language Monitor says:

“At this point it is becoming increasingly difficult to engage in any form of public dialogue without offending someone’s sensitivities, whether right, left or center.” (Paul Payack, Global Language Monitor site)

Well, not complete agreement. I'm not offended by what he says. I just think it's dumb.

Although I had never heard of Mr. Payack's site, apparently he has taken it upon himself to compile, for the last six years, a list of what he deems the ten most politically incorrect words in the English language. Topping the list is a phrase we use all the time on this blog, "swine flu." We've even discussed -- several times -- the back-and-forth over what it should be called and we've always opted for "swine flu." His reason for putting it at the top of the list of politically incorrect names is that government agencies in various countries and intergovernmental bodies like WHO and FAO have tried to use other names to placate the pork industry. As if they don't do things like that all the time for all sorts of reasons, including placating the US or China or Zimbabwe. The swine flu naming business was a widely ridiculed idea and although many official bodies persist (although CDC still calls it swine flu), this can't conceivably rise to the level of the top politically incorrect phrase in the English language. He's not even scientifically correct when he says A(H1N1) is its formal name. It doesn't have a formal name. That's why it has so many other names. But why should we expect the self appointed monitor of our language to get it right? He's not a scientist and doesn't know the right answer.

The whole project of making a list like this is dumb. A look at some of the other entries reveals that Mr. Payack has confused any kind of controversy with political incorrectness, whatever political incorrectness might mean to him. Number two on the list is "flush toilet," on the basis that they are considered by many to be environmentally problematic (which they are). Or "Green Revolution," because it has produced monoculture and chemically intense agriculture, which it has. In the US, the words "socialist" and "liberal" are considered politically incorrect by the mainstream media (who are careful to explain that when they are used as descriptors it is always negative) but for some of us they are a badge of honor. I wouldn't put them on a list of politically incorrect words. In fact I wouldn't make a list of such words because it's a fool's errand.

In fact, it's stupid. Or is that politically incorrect, Mr. Payack?

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You might be correct in what you say, though I have to say a careful reading of your post (or even not too careful) reveals a lot of problems with your reasoning. Like, "I never heard of this guy therefore what he says can't be valid" (I'm sure you did not mean that but you did pretty much say it). And "scientists don't have a system of naming flu strains therefore why is anyone complaining that we have confusion about naming flu strains!!!11!!"

In the end, it is your fault because, you, the flu-ologist, have not come up with a system of naming flus. Why not? Isn't naming things like the strains of flu kinda important? How often to fluologists fuck up because they don't have names for what they are working on? There is no reason for there to be a controversy about what to call a particular strain of flu. Just get a system. Sure, the system itself will be controversial but so what?

It is astonishing that there is not a system in place already. You need to get working on that!

Greg - you ARE being snarky right? I hope so.

If not, you are as ignorant as the Payack guy about science.

Scientific nomenclature is something that can seem monolithic but in the early days - it can take some time for proper identification and codification of a specific name. On top of this, Swine Flu is not one thing. H1N1 is not one thing. Even within one affected patient, there is not one single strain of H1N1 but variants "fighting" for dominance.

In light of the genetic variability, the term Swine Flu is actually quite on target because it clues you into the provenance of the genes in a general sense. For example, the avian genes passed THROUGH pigs (thanks to CAFOs which are the problem here and which should not be forgotten and which is being downplayed via influence by the very industries whining about the term "swine flu").

We scientists can be a patient lot. While some people drone ON about the name Swine Flu and PC crap, scientists would much prefer to see the sequence and get on with the business at hand.

Greg: To call my comment that I never heard of this guy "reasoning" does it an honor it doesn't deserve. It was a fact meant to signify that even for someone interested in words I didn't know who he was and judging from the "reasoning" on his site, I won't bother.

But as nika notes, you don't understand the flu virus. There is a system for denominating isolates (it isn't completely accurate because an isolate from a case is really the modal genetic sequence of a quasispecies) but when considering an entire subtype, it would be like saying, "why isn't there a system for naming people?" It's quite similar. Each lab gives their isolate a name (it's usually a number or number-letter sequence and has no meaning except to allow them to retrieve a test tube), a type designation (A, B, C), a subtype designation, a location (e.g., Brisbane), the animal it came from (e.g., chicken) or if a human, this is omitted, and the year (e.g., 2008). So in terms of "formal names" for swine flu there are as many as there are lab isolates, and certainly A(H1N1) isn't a formal name since it encompasses tens of millions of strains, as many H1N1s as there are H1N1 isolates (including seasonal flu, swine flu, avian flu, etc.).

So you may be astonished (more likely surprised) but science has many surprises. It just means you didn't understand what was involved. And now, I hope, you do.

I understand the flu virus. That is not what this is about.

My comment (and the post I just wrote, not up yet) is snarky, (and no, you don't get to declare my level of ignorance because we may disagree with something ... that is quite out of line) but ... I do feel that there needs to be a better system for coming up with what to call new diseases that come into the public light and/or are important than various people pulling names out of nowhere then politicians, lobbyists, and linguists fighting over it.

This is not a matter of how long it takes to characterize things, or a matter of being patient. The need for naming is not a matter of convenience. I submit that it is a matter of good public health policy.

Over the last few weeks I've had a half dozen very important conversations about the flu. For example, yesterday a physician asked me if a particular patient had had the "flu shot" yet this year. He needed to know so she could get one if not. There were no ambiguities about which flu shot because at the moment there is only one flu shot, but in a month that same conversation would be more complicated because there would be two. The only person who knew if the patient had this shot had just finished confusing atrial fibrillation with an irregular heartbeat, an elevated enzyme count with kidney failure, and a bunch of other things. In other words, not a reliable source of information. (The patient didn't know if she had had the shot.) Since we are calling these things "seasonal" and "sine" or "H1N1" I think the confusion would still be manageable, but add one more level of complexity and without a name for the strain we are screwed.

I had, as I said, other conversations regarding immunizations, scheduling, timing, decision making, and so on that again, worked because we have linguistically, culturally come up with terms for these 'flus', despite the fact that epidemiologists are not naming them.

I am very aware of the nuances. I do not need to be told that "it's not so simple" or told that if I don't get that "science is hard" that I'm as Ignorant as some guy you disdain (such methods of derailing arguments have become rather tiresome, don't you think?). My point is very simple. When things get even a little complicated, regular people who get their information from the news, from each other, from ... for fucks sake ... blogs, get very confused. If there is not a good and relatively fast way of providing names for things we need to name, the complexity of what shots there are, what versions of what shots, what do do when and what to not do and when will go beyond what we can handle. You, as the very smart scientist who understands all the nuances and complexities and who is very very patient will not be confused, but when the when the Altzheimers patient and the whacked out relative who can't keep anything straight are to be relied on to provide critical information but can't because they are contused, then there is a failure. If that confusion is exacerbated because the names we use for important things are shifting (as they did in the beginning of swine flu's emergence on the scene, for instance) then that is a failure of the doctor, not the patient, as it were.

If one is willing to leave all decisions in the ands of the health care specialists who somehow transcend the nuances and subtleties than this does not matter. People can yammer about whatever they want and get everything wrong, as long as they are compliant when told what do to by the experts. But that's not actually how it works. In the case I site above, the experts lost track of what they had done/not done as a patient was transferred from ER to ICU. In the case of another conversation last week, people were deciding what to get vaccinated for vs. not, based on percieved distinctions between the "seasonal" and "swine." And in those conversations, "swine" was never used .... only "H1N1" was used. So they were comparing "H1N1" with "H1N1" but they were unaware of that.

Yeah, get naming system.

Greg: You do need to be told "it's not so simple" because your idea of strain and related issues here is too simple. The fact is you are not aware of the nuances, because you call them nuances and they are much more than that. You are asking for a system for naming people and we don't have one. People have names, just as flu isolates have specific names that distinguishes one from another (and in that sense we do better than people). I don't know what you want. That we should decide to call something "flu" rather than "influenza" or "influenza type A" rather than "influenza" or something else. There's no shame in being ignorant in a specialized field but there it isn't becoming to defend your ignorance on principle. So you don't understand why this is a problem. That's not a big deal, not even when you make it a big deal. Then you want to turn it into a question of the medical elite and compliant patients, etc., etc. Red herrings that are not on the point of whether there should be a formal scientific name for something that is many different things. There can be a common name for it, and for most people in this country it's swine flu, while in The Netherlands and Israel it's Mexican flu and for others it's 2009 flu. You want scientists to tell people everywhere how they should refer to it. There's not even a system for naming a flu shot. In England they call it a flu jab. Maybe you'd like to tell people what language to speak in, too? Don't you think by now anthropologists should be able to come up with a naming system for cultures or for people? I mean a formal, agreed upon by everyone naming system for cultures, not just one in common use. What we use for viruses is not the same as the binomial system for bacteria because the biology is different. How about a formal naming system for a person's politics? Those stupid political scientists. Liberal, conservative, progressive, too imprecise. Let's get a formal system for naming a person's politics. Then we'll work on the flu virus.

You and I have different names but we're both bloggers. That's apparently confusing to some people. Should our publisher have a formal system for our given names? Dumb.

Not one of the conversations I've had over recent weeks with regular people making decisions about the flu for themselves, their elderly relatives, or their children would be even slightly informed by anything you are saying.

What you need to do is to put aside your need to keep telling me, incorrectly, that I don't understand the flu virus and the complexities of it as well as anyone who is not in it professionally, and then perhaps you can hear what I'm saying.

I suppose what I need to do is to not expect that of you.

I love this blog I learn a lot here, I keep up on new stuff. This is actually an important blog, and that can not be said about too many blogs .You do great work. But the pompous ass part is annoying, does little more than extend the stereotype, and obviates the possibility of any further conversation on this issue.

This is not an attempt at snark, but where can I find the list of other names for swine flu?

I know that it's called A(H1N1) because it's an influenza type A virus and has hemagglutinin type 1 and neuraminidase type 1; what constitutes a 'formal name' for this type of virus, if there is a formal naming scheme at all?

By Katharine (not verified) on 12 Oct 2009 #permalink

Regarding my last comment, I seem to have been incorrect in assuming that there was no formal naming scheme. Whups. Shows you how coherent I am an hour after waking up.

In addition, I think the stumbling block here is that laypeople - them folks that aren't like us science people - don't know much about how influenza study works in the lab; they just want to know what kind of virus they've got. Since there'll be different names for lab isolates, which apparently get 'formal names' per se, of the same virus, but medically they all seem to do the same crud, one might simply say that formally, it's known by whichever lab isolate it is, but they all fall under the greater category, which is the clinically important designation, of A(H1N1). Please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, since I do neurobiology and not infectious diseases.

By Katharine (not verified) on 12 Oct 2009 #permalink

... avian genes passed THROUGH pigs (thanks to CAFOs...

Thanks to basic virology and physiology.

Dont confuse your political agenda with science, whether you are on the 'left' or the 'right', thank you.

Greg-- I do feel that there needs to be a better system for coming up with what to call new disease...
Its called 'swine flu'.

So speaketh the ERV.

Problem solved!

For real, Im not coming up for names for >10^60 HIV-1 variants, I dont expect influenza folks to do it either.

This discussion is turning into the poster child for Randy Olson's new book.

So, imagine this conversation:

Patient: "Dr, what do you call this thing I've got that has knocked the crap out of me"

Doctor: "... Well, ... Since there'll be different names for lab isolates, which apparently get 'formal names' per se, of the same virus, but medically they all seem to do the same crud, one might simply say that formally, it's known by whichever lab isolate it is, but they all fall under the greater category, which is the clinically important designation, of A(H1N1)."

Patient: "I'm paying you for this?"

Katherine: You are mostly correct. The problem is that A(H1N1) is not precise enough because there are several quite different H1N1s. The seasonal H1N1 has internal segments that come from humans (although all ultimately seem to trace to birds) while the swine flu H1N1 is entirely of swine origin (although it also has ancestors from pigs, birds and humans). The swine-origin ones that appeared in 2009 are what we call 2009 swine flu (as opposed to 1976 swine flu which is a different virus and both are different than seasonal H1N1, which has been through many strains. Exactly what should be called a strain is a matter of debate and not easily subject to formal stipulation but conventional usage seems to work fairly well. As for common names around the world for what we call swine flu, there are many and I don't have a list. Different languages use different terms, based on different criteria, including animal of origin (swine), year or pandemic status (pandemic 2009 H1N1 or novel 2009 H1N1), or presumed country of origin ("Mexican flu"). In the US the designation seasonal flu and H1N1 are used in the press, although it isn't quite correct since one of the three seasonal viruses is also H1N1, but it seems to work. So does swine flu versus seasonal or regular flu.

Greg: I appreciate the kind words but they don't mitigate your errors. Whether anybody you talked to would be informed by my post is quite irrelevant because it wasn't about that kind of conversation, as an examination of the post, even a cursory one, will reveal. I hear what you are saying, quite clearly. It is, "Don't tell me I don't understand something, even when I don't. I'll never admit to that." The fact is that flu viruses have a formal naming system for isolates only and there are reasons for this. This is system is different than naming systems for other viruses. You aren't a virologist so it's OK not to know this, but it isn't OK to accuse others of not doing their job and getting a naming system that we don't know how to do just because you want one and don't understand why one hasn't been developed. There are reasons why we don't have one. That's what I was trying (unsuccessfully, alas) to explain to you. Mr. Payack wasn't even broaching that subject, just making an incorrect assumption that A(H1N1) was the "formal name" for swine flu, which it isn't. You then raised this whole ruckus about how "astonishing" it is that flu scientists haven't gotten their act together and figured out a formal naming system. My reply was that there was a good reason for that and you didn't seem to appreciate it. You still don't. You instead want to divert the conversation to the subject of my supposed elitism, condescension or whatever, because that's your reasoning for why there isn't a formal naming system, presumably because we are either too lazy to construct one or we wish to keep it arcane knowledge. Whether I am an elitist or condescending aside (I don't care what you think about that), the reasons have to do with the way the world is. If you read this blog you know there is a difference between a swine flu isolate that has the E627K mutation in PB2 and one that doesn't. Do you want to give each mutation a different formal name? Because then you will thousands of differently named viruses in any patient, since minor and inconsequential differences in the genetic sequence are present because the virus is a sloppy reproducer.

Greg, it's OK not to completely understand the genuine difficulties (which you trivialize by calling them nuances) in another field than your own. It's not OK to defend your lack of understanding by blaming someone else for it. Sometimes it's just better to say, "Ah. Now I see what the problem is. Thanks." Give it a try.

your need to keep telling me, incorrectly, that I don't understand the flu virus and the complexities of it as well as anyone who is not in it professionally

So you're saying that you understand the flu virus as well as anyone who studies it professionally?

And Revere is arrogant?

How odd.

@ Greg and revere
Y'all are talking past each other. What Greg wants, whether he knows it or not, is not a "scientific" naming. The problem he presents requires a "marketing" approach - branding, if you will. IMHO it would have been a good idea to have had some such early on so that people would have a descriptive term that served not only to differentiate but that might have reduced the mistaken perceptions in news coverage. (things like "most of the kids have regular flu, we only have two with confirmed swine flu"; as though one were more socially acceptible than the other)

By Catte Nappe (not verified) on 12 Oct 2009 #permalink

I apologize for bringing up an idea that was not originally broached in your post. Is this the first time this has happened?

My point, once more, said a bit differently: Out there in real life, there can be and has been confusion about what to call these things. This confusion can matter, though things are not as bad right now as they could be. Here in Minnesota, some people and some news agencies have dropped "swine" because the state has asked for that under pressure from the industry. Instead, they use the term H1N1. Others use the term swine. As you mentioned, there are more general and international issues: In South Africa, "flu" is the word used for the common cold and flu, and "influenza" is for influenza, among regular people (I don't know what physicians or public health officials say).

As far as normal day to day people are concerned, we have two diseases on the street: Seasonal and swine/H1N1 (to use the Minnesotan terms). We have two vaccines: "Regular" and the the one that is only starting to be delivered, for swine/H1N1. Two entities, not fewer, not more. You can characterize your subtypes until the cows (or pigs) come home, but this is what is happening in real life. Two flu types, seasonal and swine. The underlying science is of no interest to the person calling for an appointment or the person at the clinic making the appointment.

On this blog, there are 151 posts listed under the archive "swine flu" ... how can that be? Why are these posts not subdivided into finer topics, depending on whether the E627K mutation is present or not in the particular strain being discussed in that post? Because 151 times you've discussed the Swine Flu as an entity.

The swine flu is an entity with a name, and entity with an epidemiological pattern, an entity that can be discussed as such as a public health issue, an entity that is of concern to people generally, an entity that has a vaccine that matches that entity as a response to it, an entity that has a news-land identity... shall I go on or are you getting this?

This entity, swine flu, works as a conversational touchstone among physicians and nurses, among physicians and nurses speaking with patients, for you on this blog, for people talking about whether or not to get a shot among their non-physician peers. It may be a somewhat questionable scientific entity, but it is nonetheless used by all of us and it is a real linguistic entity that is really being used like it or not.

And that entity ... the thing that is the Swine Flu as you mean it in those 151 blog posts you wrote, that our clinic means it when my wife calls to make an appointment to get a shot for it next week, that the RN I was talking to yesterday did not get the nasal spray for yet, that half the patients in the ICU are there because of ... has a name that our collective global culture pulled out of it's collective global ass with, in my view, insufficient input from the scientific community.

Wouldn't it be nice to have a system within the world of epidemiology for coming up with these names rather than having them settled by language mavens and politicians being funded by this or that industry?

If you read this blog you know there is a difference between a swine flu isolate that has the E627K mutation in PB2 and one that doesn't.

That is very interesting and important. It is not what your original post was about and it is not what my suggestion was about. Again, this is not hard.

Oh, and don't tell me this: "The fact is you are not aware of the nuances..." then tell me this "it's OK not to completely understand the genuine difficulties (which you trivialize by calling them nuances)".

OK, maybe this is hard.

Phila: Don't be an ass. What I said was "as well as anyone who is NOT NOT NOT NOT into it professionally. Before you insult me read ALL the words.

Catte: "Y'all are talking past each other" I noticed that! I am hoping that this comment helps clarify.

But no, I'm not talking, whether i know it or not, about marketing. I'm talking about naming the thing. This is not hard. Your point is a good one, though, that there is a marketing aspect to this, in a sense, because of the nature of people's misconceptions. "Regular" vs. "Extra scary" would be bad names.

Greg: Let's just cut to your main point, which occurs in the last paragraph of comment 15: "I'm talking about naming the thing. This is not hard." Let's try to parse this so we don't talk past each other. Are you saying, "It's not hard to understand that you are talking about naming the thing?" I understood that. You were saying, in your first comment (#1 on this thread) that you were "astonished" that the world of flu science didn't have a formal system for naming the disease caused by the vast collection of swine origin viruses that arose in 2009. I tried to explain why that was. Let's parse it further. For the public, the question is not what the virus is named, but what the disease infection with the currently circulating swine origin influenza A H1N1 is called. People have different names for diseases and so do doctors. If you want a formal naming system for diseases, you can consult the International Classification of Diseases-10 for deaths and ICD-9 (US) or -10 (rest of the world) CM (for Clinical Modification). So the formal name (code) for Malignant neoplasm of major salivary glands (code 142) has 142.9 (specified further to the Submaxillary gland in ICD-9). That's the formal system. For some diseases like Lymphomas there are several different naming systems. Most people don't care about the formal system. They just say, "The doctor told me I have malignant lymphoma", or cancer of the lymph glands or whatever. Other than the coding system, though, for most diseases there is no universally agreed upon naming system. Be astonished.

If by "Naming isn't hard" you mean that literally, you couldn't be more wrong. It is very hard, even at the most elementary level (what does "name" mean). I was just reading Saul Kripke's 1970 lectures on Naming and Necessity where he discusses how Frege and Russell destroyed the Lockean view of naming but produced one with its own problems. The ICD codes are in revision 10 because the names of diseases change. All that is just for starters. When it comes to a virus which makes imperfect copies of itself by the millions and billions, naming becomes like naming people. ERV gives another example with HIV. It isn't at all clear how to deal with this. In the flu world seasonal virus "strains" are named after the isolate the seed strain was made from, but it isn't the same virus as the original isolate. It just has the HA of the original isolate. The rest is different. The same is true of the swine flu vaccine. It's got the HA of California/2009 but the rest is from a mouse-adapted virus PR8 first isolated in 1933 but now drifted genetically (there are variations in this, but that's the idea). So what do you want to name that "virus"?

In epidemiology we have a formal definition for something called Influenza-Like Illness (ILI). It corresponds to no single disease or virus. But it's a formal case definition. Is that what you want? A formal case definition? People confuse "stomach flu" and influenza infection all the time, a problem we have to deal with.

The problem with your question (although it wasn't in the form of a question but should have been: why is there no formal name for the disease caused by this virus) was not that you asked it (or should have asked it instead of asserting it was astonishing there wasn't one). The problem was you didn't know what you were asking.

Can this fact of life produce confusion? Yes. Have some people tried to remedy it by mandating a name? Yes. Unsuccessfully because there's no way to do it other than by fiat. Should you be surprised? Probably, because you didn't know what you were asking for.

WTF??? Why does it seem that your blog has suddenly become a "kook magnet," Revere? Have you recently introduced some unknown adjuvant, that caused some sort of adverse reaction? And why, exactly, can't you just say something nice about Mr. Paul JJ Payack? Is it because he's the president of "The Global Language Monitor," and you're not? Or is it the "JJ" part? That really shouldn't bother you at all. There are all kinds of Billy Bobs, and assorted others that I won't bother with, here, running loose in Texas, at any given moment. Do you also despise "J. Danforth Quayle?" Or how about "J. Edgar Hoover," do you hate him, too? And "J. Paul Getty" how about him (and you're really only wasting your energy with the last two, since they're already dead; the first one, though is only brain-dead)? Or is it "just" because he's a Texan? I must admit that I, too, have a personal bias with regard to Texas in general, but I try not to allow it to diminish each individual Texan, in my eyes. That would be politically incorrect, would it not? I think that this may have warped me permanently, though. For the remainder of my life, whenever anyone mentions Texas, I am going to instantly conjure up the name "Paul JJ Payack." You've now scarred me for life. Thanks a lot, Revere.

Oh. And I'm sorry, by the way, that this is off-topic, but you need to understand that you drove me to it.

Dylan: LOL. You know, we doctors have a name for that.

Revere, you are as thick as three short boards.

Patient: "Doctor, what is this thing I have, what do you call it?"

Dr. Revere: "Well, according to formal naming system for diseases, you can consult the International Classification of Diseases-10 for deaths and ICD-9 (US) or -10 (rest of the world) CM (for Clinical Modification). So the formal name (code) for Malignant neoplasm of major salivary glands (code 142) has 142.9 (specified further to the Submaxillary gland in ICD-9). bla bla bla"

Patient: "NURSE!!! GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!"

Now, to cut to the main point, as you say. It turns out it is in your last paragraph.

Can this fact of life produce confusion? Yes. Have some people tried to remedy it by mandating a name? Yes. Unsuccessfully because there's no way to do it other than by fiat. Should you be surprised? Probably, because you didn't know what you were asking for.

Funny. That is what I was talking about. I knew that all along, this just now dawned on you, and you are incorrect when you say that this is a fact of life and can't be fixed, IMHO. Your obfuscation in making this about how I asked or did not ask the question instead of how your holy doctorness simply assumed that anyone bringing up a point you had not considered must be steeped in ignorance is pitiful and absurd, and your condescension is laughable considering the depth of your inability to comprehend basic ideas that you did not come to the table with yourself.

But I still like your blog quite a bit.

Greg: We know interpersonal relations isn't your strong suit but I don't think you have wriggled out of the predicament you've gotten yourself in by saying, "Yeah, that's what I was saying all along" and mischaracterizing my example of ICD codes, which is an example of what you were asking for (a formal naming). Of course giving an ICD code wouldn't satisfy a patient. It's not meant to. Nor would a formal naming system for flu viruses that took account of the biology do so. It would be useful for science (if it could be constructed) but likely of little use to the public. So you asked for the wrong thing and that's a fact. If you wanted to say, why can't we all just agree to call it X, then that's a different question and the answer is that there is no agreed upon basis of picking one thing rather than another. Currently isolates are named by location and year primarily, but there are other factors. We don't tell people, you are infected with A/California/04/2009 (H1N1) nor do people want to know that. They want to know if it's swine flu or Mexican flu or whatever it's called in their particular area.

It's possible to bring up a lot of points I haven't considered, although I've considered a lot of points here in five years. It happens, however, that your point is not one of those. It had an answer. You just won't accept it.

Since your arguments have now boiled down to, "Good you finally realize I, Greg Laden, am right" (even though you aren't), I think we have played this string out.

I used to be with ERV and called it swine flu, but since I live in an area with more pigs than people, I vote for "Mexican Flu". Of course, it may not have (some would say probably didn't) come from Mexico, but then the Spanish Flu probably came from Kansas, so there you have it. Spanish, Asian, Hong Kong, Mexican. All the good pandemic strains have a geographical name. It is a rule. The 1976 Swine flu didn't go pandemic because it was mis-named.

MoM -- Doesn't that mean we shouldn't give flus geographical names, to prevent them going pandemic?

Phila: Don't be an ass. What I said was "as well as anyone who is NOT NOT NOT NOT into it professionally. Before you insult me read ALL the words.

In other words, you don't understand it as well as Revere (or, say, the average virologist). Which makes it odd, and kind of arrogant, that you refuse to be educated on this point.

Every time I have write for the media outlets, I am asked to reword my terminology to swine flu since is it simple, and everyone knows what the hell you are talking about when you use that term. I am with you Revere---it is swine flu for God's sake and anyone who thinks differently should get a life.

By BostonERDoc (not verified) on 12 Oct 2009 #permalink

Will anyone/everyone be insulted if I say, can we concentrate on discussing public health and the (my preferred term) 2009H1N1 flu, rather than back-and-forth over who is or isn't an ignoramus? Like BostonERDoc here, I have to write for nonspecialists. Unlike many of you here, I am merely a university press editor and journalist specializing in, among other topics, public health, and so my word is--like that of the "laypersons" and "patients" assumed ignorant in some of these posts--often breezed over by such persons as, e.g., the local, rural hospital's administrators (let's avoid terms like "stupid" or "ignorant" or "ostrich" even though. . .), and so it is a real struggle on the ground to get the current pandemic taken seriously. Can we deal with real and earthbound things--e.g., the politics of dealing with ignorant power structures, or the tactics of improving rural health provision (in this pandemic and in general), perhaps, in place of long discussions of terms (even yucky terms like "swine flu")? Thanks.

I vote for "Disneyland Flu" - L.A. Disneyland is the distribution hub that sent it across to Australia and (I think) several other countries.

I wonder it that connects with immigrant workers at Disneyland with no sick leave ? Working with thousands of kids a day plus no paid sick leave when you have a potential pandemic disease = recipe for disease distribution.

BostonERDoc, I lost the last dregs of my life when three of my kids got Disneyland Flu :-{

... my example of ICD codes, which is an example of what you were asking for (a formal naming).

I was asking for the community of scientists to provide a system by which we name these phenomena in a way that minimizes confusion and avoids situations like what you brought up in the OP. I have been saying the same thing all along, the need is real, there is good reason to address it, and you simply are not on board with it.

To use your phraseology, I have been asking "why can't we all just agree to call it X" only I mean more specifically that a formal system be adopted like we have in other sciences for important phenomena of interest to the public.

And the answer you provide is: "there is no agreed upon basis of picking one thing rather than another."


And by the way, it is my fault for starting this discussion out as a snark-fest. Looking back I was over the top and that was my error. (Sometimes trying to be funny is not.)

Paula... 2009H1N1 flu...
The 'real' name of an influenza virus goes along these lines:
A/California/04/09 (H1N1)

Any H1N1 virus isolated in 2009 is going to have the same 'last name', '/09 (H1N1)'.

There were viruses 'born' before swine flu this year that already had the last name '/09 (H1N1).

So calling swine flu '2009H1N1' is like calling me 'Smith'. Its technically accurate, but there are a ton of Smiths out there, so calling me 'Smith' is non-helpful. Calling me '1983 Smith' is not much better.

'Swine flu' is more accurate, as you not only mean an H1N1 virus, but also the current non-seasonal nature of the disease, the way its effecting children/pregnant women/etc, structure of the virus, immunity within the current human population, etc.

Its called 'swine flu'.

Whew! Thank you Paula.

By Robert Church (not verified) on 14 Oct 2009 #permalink

It's happened at last: The USDA is investigating whether children at the Minnesota State Fair gave H1N1 to pigs, sometime between Aug. 26 and Sept. 1 The samples were collected for a study done by University of Iowa and University of Minnesota, funded by the CDC. Results expected soon. It is not verified that it is pandemic H1N1. More at flu. Haven't checked CNN or other news sources to see if they've picked this up.

By mediajackal (not verified) on 16 Oct 2009 #permalink

My, my, all this name-calling over what name to call it!

Positive Thinking⢠provides a way out of such dilemmas - since this situation is going to command world-wide attention for months, isn't it a prime opportunity to auction corporate sponsorship?

"This interlude of prolonged bed rest is brought to you by ..."

The chicken-soup companies will be brawling over the chance to have their names mentioned in news reports and personal diagnoses!

By Pierce R. Butler (not verified) on 17 Oct 2009 #permalink

I say we just call the bloody thing Ralph and be done with it.

By ChicagoMolly (not verified) on 18 Oct 2009 #permalink