Buzzword: H1N1

Consumer Reports News: April 30, 2009 06:09 AM

H1N1: Does the swine flu need a new name? The New York Times reported that the pork industry snorted at the association with their product. Israel’s health minister didn’t like the name because of the Jewish prohibition of pork and suggested it be called the “Mexican flu,”, until the Israeli foreign minister balked and Mexican ambassador balked, according to press reports. And others have suggested North American flu. The U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, told reporters, "This really isn't swine flu. It's H1N1 virus."

So what is H1N1? It’s an influenza type A virus common to pigs--in other words, a swine flu, although this particular flu also appears to have genetic material from avian and human influenza. In general, influenza type A viruses are the type considered most dangerous to humans. They are divided into subtypes and named on the basis of two proteins on the surface of the virus: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N)—hence the H1, and N1. Most of the recently isolated influenza viruses from pigs have been H1N1 strains, but H1N2, H3N2, and H3N1 have also been isolated from pigs.

Bob Williams, strategic resource director, Consumers Union

Follow our continuing coverage of swine flu.

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