We are not renaming swine flu

Executive Editor Esther Enkin on why we will use the name swine flu.

It's the old clichéd question — what's in a name? But it doesn't feel clichéd if you think the name is doing you harm or causes confusion.

Swine flu or influenza A (H1N1)? What's the difference and what should we call it?

Many of you have asked us why we still use the term swine flu for the virus sweeping the globe now that the World Health Organization is referring to it as influenza A (H1N1).

It is a good question and, in the last two days, groups of us have asked ourselves the same thing, more than once.

An electron microscope image shows an H1N1 swine flu virus culture obtained from a California patient suffering from the current international outbreak. (U.S. Centres for Disease Control) ((Centers for Disease Control))

But along with the New York Times, other Canadian broadcasters and international wire services, we have opted to continue calling the disease swine flu.

Here's why: in such an anxious and emotional time, our goal is to be as clear as possible in our broadcasts and publications. We think our audiences will understand the term (swine flu), which we have been using for the past week.

At this stage, it seems very confusing to change the name.

A confusing name

Also, we have an obligation to be accurate. Many public health officials and immunologists say there is already a virus by the name influenza A (H1N1). In fact, H1N1 is the name of a whole category of viruses.

In its most virulent form, influenza A (H1N1) caused the world pandemic in 1918. Estimated to have killed up to 30 million people worldwide, that outbreak came to be known as the Spanish flu.

In this instance, there are some, including our prime minister, who have referred to this particular outbreak as the Mexican flu. But we feel that is also a name that could cause confusion at this point.

There is precedent, of course, for naming a virus based on the species from which it has evolved.

Avian flu comes from birds. And in 1976, there was another outbreak of flu that derived from pigs — and it was called swine flu.

We understand pork producers and processors are very concerned that the constant reference to this disease as swine flu is affecting their industries.

We also understand that we have an obligation to continue emphasizing that eating pork can in no way lead to infection from this virus. And we will continue to evaluate our use of the name in light of any other developments.

But right now, swine flu is still the prevalent term in most mass media. If we think the use of that term becomes confusing, or if a more accurate and appropriate term is coined, we will change our practice.

We feel the more important issue at the moment is to bring you the information you need as this flu develops.

We are committed to bringing you the latest developments as well as any information that may be helpful in keeping you and your family safe.

We recognize that, in doing so, we may be raising anxiety levels in some cases.

But, as in our discussions about what to call this thing, we will continue to ask ourselves how we are doing in telling this story.

As well, we will continue to share with you what we are thinking and how we come to the conclusions we do. And I know you are never shy to share with us what you think about that. Thanks!