The media are having a field day with the recent swine flu outbreak. What better opportunity for sensationalism and scaremongering? The media excel in these particular areas (for obvious reasons). I needn’t really provide any examples–one needs only to turn on the tube. Some recent headlines have been certainly confusing, if not contradictory, though. “Inaccurate ‘swine’ flu label hurts industry, pork producers say,” reads one CNN headline. “Swine flu name change? Flu genes spell pig,” reads another from the Associated Press. Never mind that what we call the virus is of so little importance. So, is it a “misnomer,” as CNN would have it, or is it truly a swine flu, as the AP article would suggest? The U.S. government and the World Health Organization (WHO) have stopped calling it the swine flu and instead refer to it by as its official scientific name, 2009 H1N1. But as the AP points out, this particular strain is six parts bovine, one part human, and one part avian–essentially a swine flu (note, though, you can’t get it from eating pork). Ah, but WHO is merely being altruistic by saving all the pigs that would otherwise be slaughtered if they continued to call it the swine flu. Right? Well, that’s how the story goes. So far, though, you have one death in the United States. As tragic as that is, the influenza virus kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year (see, e.g. Dushoff et al. 2005) and hundreds of thousands more worldwide. Obviously I don’t think there is enough perspective being given.

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